Ernest Hemingway is responsible for a famous misquotation of F Scott Fitzgerald’s. According to Hemingway, a conversation between him and Fitzgerald went:
Fitzgerald: ‘The rich are different than you and me.’
Hemingway: ‘Yes, they have more money.’
This never actually happened; it is a retelling of an actual encounter between Hemingway and a female acquaintance. This was brought to mind by a visit made yesterday to Old Money. We were invited to stay overnight on our way south at a Burgundy farmhouse, some of which dated from the seventeenth century and had been in the family for generations, complete with lake and gigantic sequoia. The place stood in its own grounds, had survived the ravages of the Revolution and had been added to tastefully over the years. What was somewhat ironic was that wealth wasn’t paraded like a trophy – no gold Rolexes or Aston Martins in the driveways – but instead was present in antique furniture and works of art on the walls – several examples of an early and quite obscure Impressionist bought because the owner simply liked them. The art world is secretive about auction prices but a fairly cursory search revealed a number of recent oeuvres had been on the market – I happen to know where at least one of them ended up.
Dinner was for fourteen, presided over by la maîtresse with sons, daughters and their spouses in attendance. I felt I had to be on best behaviour since she had drawn up a written seating plan and placed me next to her. One son is a world authority on Egyptian philosophy, another is an impossibly senior antiquarian at Versailles and an authority on the Napoleonic period, and the ‘girlie’ of the family became an artist and landscaper. I felt intellectually outclassed since everyone but me seemed to speak at least three languages. I should like to say that I enjoyed myself. I did not. The old house, beautiful as it undoubtedly was, had a melancholy resonance about it, its secrets held close, small islands of truth and honesty poked their heads up like lonely icebergs in an ocean of stiff formalism but the unspoken narratives were deep and voluminous. A child, autistic perhaps and lacking compassion, eyed me guilelessly, a paradigm for the emotionally shuttered adults surrounding her.