Isaac Bashevis Singer,
the Princesse de Polignac,
and the Sewing Machine
Music's Modern Muse: A Life of Winnaretta Singer, Princesse de
Polignac, Eastman Studies in Music. University of
Rochester Press, 2003.
Michael de Cossart, Food of
Love: Princesse Edmond de Polignac (1865-1943) and her Salon,
Hamish Hamilton, 1978.
Sylvia Kahan, Music's Modern Muse: A Life of Winnaretta
Singer, Princesse de Polignac, Eastman Studies in Music,
University of Rochester Press, 2003.
Cossart, Food of Love: Princesse Edmond de Polignac (1865-1943)
and her Salon, Hamish Hamilton, 1978.
During the great days of early
twentieth century Paris, one of the leading patrons of the arts was the
Princesse de Polignac, who commissioned major works by Stravinsky, Satie,
Poulenc, and others. She was the widow of Prince Edmond of Polignac and
the ex-wife of Prince Louis de Scey-Montbéliard -- though neither marriage
had been consummated. The first marriage, arranged by the bride’s mother
against Winnaretta's will,
had been annulled, but the gay Prince Edmond de Polignac fortunately had no desire for
was the son of the ultra-royalist Auguste Jules
Armand Polignac, whose attempted coup d'etat instigated the 1830
This all sounds ever so sophisticated,
decadent, and continental, but the Princesse was born Winnaretta Singer --
one of the twenty-two children (by five wives) of Isaac Merritt Singer,
the former Shakespearean actor and jack-of-all-trades who (with a little
help from Elias Howe) had invented the
Singer Sewing Machine. In 1875 Singer
died and left fifteen million dollars to be divided among his
wives and children (or most of them, anyway). In 1875 that was real money, and Winnaretta was able
to buy her way into high society.
Princess Winnaretta obviously had no
children, but when her sister Isabelle-Blanche committed suicide,
Winnaretta took charge of her daughter, Marguerite Séverine Philippine
Decazes de Glücksbierg, and Margeurite’s 1910 marriage to Prince Jean
Amédée Marie Anatole de Broglie (also reputed to be gay) produced three
more princesses. After the Prince's death, Marguerite then married a
cousin of Winston Churchill, taking the name of Daisy Fellowes;
Daisy was an author and, as a patron of Else Schiaparelli, had an
important influence on the world of fashion.
Much later, still another Singer
heir, Anne Labouisse Farnsworth Peretz, (whose exact relationship to
Singer I’ve been unable to ascertain) loyally funded Martin Peretz’s
New Republic until all her money had been used up and he had to sell
the magazine. To me this sounds a bit like coming down in the world.
1. The novelist is known to us as
"Isaac Bashevis Singer" because before him there already had been a famous
American named Isaac Singer..
2. Parvenu princesses from rich but
disreputable families often perform as well as real princesses. I’m
presently reading several biographies of Erik Satie, one of my favorite
composers and eccentrics, and will remain forever grateful to Winnaretta.
3. Well-born people have more names
than we do.
4. And really -- what kind of
hillbilly name is Winnaretta, anyway?
The first Isaac Singer was only somewhat Jewish.
Ultimately he was baptized as a
Christian, probably for purposes of marriage; his German biography
rather vaguely says that Isaac’s father “came from a Jewish family
named Reisinger in Saxony”.
Winnaretta Singer the bull dyke
Isaac Singer and
Photo of Winnaretta. Isaac Singer had a beautiful voice and
made sure that all of his children had musical educations; he even
favored musicians when hiring for his company. Promoting his sewing
machine he commissioned songs and put out trading cards of opera
singers and of songbirds. (The name "Singer" sometimes is a German
surname, but apparently it had not been the
family's name in Germany).
Isaac's widow Isabella (Winnaretta's mother) was Bartholdi's model for the Statue of
Liberty. Lots of interesting details.
Wikapedia -- many links.
German biography of Singer
Patent lawsuit with Howe over the sewing machine
More Isaac Singer info
Isaac's early life as a mechinist, etc., in Newark near Rochester.
Princess of Polignac herself (and a yacht in Monaco and a room in the old
Singer mansion in the UK, both presumably named for her), the following
are all the Winnarettas I could find via Google. By the evidence,
Winnaretta is a British name. All of them might have been named after
Winnaretta Singer, however.
Winnaretta (McNamara) Howe, gave birth to daughter,
1907, NB, Canada.
Helma Winnaretta Randel, b. 1913, UK.
Winnaretta Raven, b. 1917, UK.
Chrixtena Winnaretta Gillespie, married 1906, BC,
Winna R Mitchelmore?, b. 1914, NZ.
I am emersonj at gmail dot com.
Original materials copyright John J