Interesting Women in History
I love discovering the lives of women who forged their own paths, and in this post I’d like to introduce you to Princess Marie Bonaparte.
“Bah,” I hear you say, “Not another royal!”
But wait…Princess Marie, great-grandniece of Napoleon I, was definitely not a traditional princess.
As a descendant of one of Napoleon I’s disinherited brothers she had no claim to the French imperial throne, but inherited great wealth from her maternal grandfather, who was one of the principal developers of Monte Carlo. She married Prince George of Greece and Denmark (uncle of HRH Prince Phillip, Elizabeth II’s consort) in 1907, towards the end of La Belle Epoché, that time of peace and prosperity that died with the advent of World War I.
I first became aware of Princess Marie when I was researching the work of sculptor Constantine Brancusi and came across his series of sculptures, Princess X. This was Brancusi’s vision of Princess Marie, and consisted of a stylized penis.
As it turned out, Princess Marie was a woman who enjoyed her sexuality and is rumoured to have had diverse affairs after her marriage. But, because of the prevailing ideas that masturbation and clitoral stimulation led to mental imbalance and the only good orgasm was a vaginal one, she felt unfulfilled and worried about her ‘frigidity.’ She began to do research and decided that women whose clitorises were closer to the vagina were most likely to achieve orgasm during intercourse (which seems to be defined as having sex in the missionary position.) Women with a greater distance between the two were less likely to have vaginal orgasms. She then went ahead and had surgery moving her clitoris closer to her vagina, not once, but twice! OUCH!
Now I understood—Brancusi’s sculptures seem to encapsulate her obsession with sex and her need to achieve vaginal orgasm.
Apparently the operations didn’t solve her problem, and she became involved in the world of psychoanalysis, eventually consulting with Freud and being mentored by him. She was instrumental in arranging Freud’s ransom from the Nazis, and was a well-respected practitioner of psychoanalysis until her death in 1962.
Princess Marie Bonaparte was very much a product of her time, but took the prevailing mores one step further, turning her intellectual prowess towards solving what she saw as a wide-spread problem. She was at the forefront of the development of psychoanalysis and was, I’m sure, a great inspiration for women of the era and those that came afterwards. Even if I can’t agree with her methods, times having changed as they have, I find myself agreeing with her when she said:
“On the one hand, then, in the reproductive functions proper—menstruation, defloration, pregnancy and parturition—woman is biologically doomed to suffer. Nature seems to have no hesitation in administering to her strong doses of pain, and she can do nothing but submit passively to the regimen prescribed. On the other hand, as regards sexual attraction, which is necessary for the act of impregnation, and as regards the erotic pleasures experienced during the act itself, the woman may be on an equal footing with the man.”
Amen, your highness. Amen!