All this and Heaven Too
A Mendelssohnís Link to Murder, Suicide and
the Downfall of a French King
This month Marco Polo releases a new recording
of Max Steinerís superior score for the classic Warner Bros. "womanís
film" of 1940, All This And Heaven Too, based on the
best-selling novel by Rachel Field. The film, based on
a true story, cast Bette Davis, somewhat against type as the caring,
passive Henriette Deluzy-Desportes governess to the many children
of the French Duc de Praslin. There is a link between the Mendelssohn
family and this story.
The Ďfounderí of the Mendelssohn dynasty, Moses
Mendelssohn was born in poverty in 1729, in the Jewish ghetto
of Dessau. Small and humpbacked, he walked, at the age of 14,
the eighty miles to Berlin where by dint of hard work in the silk
business and diligent study he rose to become the most celebrated
Jew in 500 years. He found fame as a leading philosopher and litterateur.
He wrote Phaedon a philosophical tract after Socrates,
but with Mosesís own thoughts in favour of immortality. It became
the best-selling book of its day. Moses also set forces in motion
which, although he did not intend them that way, led to a modernisation
of Jewish religious practises.
Mosesí son Joseph later aided by Abraham, the
composer Felix Mendelssohnís father, were to found the prosperous
Mendelssohn and Company bank that remained in existence until
Hitler extinguished it in the late 1930s. Mosesí daughters were
in the forefront of the womenís liberation movement of their day.
One daughter, Dorothea Mendelssohn whose Berlin salons were a
magnet for artists, scandalised Europe with her writings and amours.
She left her dull businessman husband, Simon Veit, for the more
intellectually stimulating and passionate Frederick Schlegel.
Another daughter, Henrietta, was equally independent-minded
and adventurous. She shied away from men all her life. Her only
interest in them was intellectual. She was no beauty. She settled
in Paris and opened a school for the daughters of the wealthy
but was ultimately persuaded to devote herself to becoming the
governess of Fanny, the young daughter of one of Napoleonís generals,
Sebastiani, an extremely wealthy man. Sebastiani installed Henrietta
in his household - a lavish house abutting the Élysée
Palace. Henrietta converted to Catholicism and brought Fanny up
strictly. Fanny, was lovely but empty-headed. Her marriage to
the Duc de Choiseul-Praslin was disastrous. The relationship between
Henrietta and her young ward was raised in the horrendous fate
that overtook the Fanny. Fanny grew fat and flabby and madly jealous
- especially when her husband began to seek solace with the young
governess of their numerous children. In a rage he battered Fanny
to death with a heavy brass candlestick. Two days later he swallowed
arsenic. The murder-suicide caused a sensation. It contributed
to the fall in 1848 of King Louis-Philippe whose government was
accused of having permitted Praslin, a member of the peerage,
to commit suicide to escape trial and punishment. In one article
that followed Henrietta Mendelssohn was practically accused of
being a lesbian whose influence helped make Fanny Sebastiani incapable
of having an emotionally stable marriage.