Thursday, August 19, 2010

A Typology of Foxhunters, Part 8: Grande Dames

When the Foxhunters Guide blog was launched two months ago, I had not intended for it to become a participatory endeavor. It was, you see, supposed to be all about me, a platform through which I could impress readers with my deft wordcrafting and sage insights. As it turns out, and to my immense surprise, I am not the sole custodian of such talents. Nor am I alone in my inclination to classify our fellow foxhunters according to identifiable typologies. Suggestions continue to come along at a steady pace, some simply one word leads (e.g., “Thrusters”), others fully developed compositions.

We’ve already seen the result of Liz Williams’ tip on “False Staffs,” the nicely done lead-in piece on “The Sponge” from our (still) anonymous contributor, and Harry Kuniansky’s addition to “You might be a foxhunter…” Now comes another complete typology, Gary Mantello’s touching take on that daunting personage many of us have known all too well, the Grande Dame.

Suggestions and contributions are certainly welcome, even if it means the spotlight is not always on your humble blogger. But for a worthy submission, especially one as well-written as Gary’s, I will gladly share the cyber stage so that you may enjoy reading about…

Grande Dames

By Gary Mantello

May I humbly suggest that you cover the most terrifying member of the foxhunting bestiary, The Grande Dame. Grande Dames are a subset of that much-discussed group, the Fashion Police, but they are far more fearsome to the new foxhunter. These formidable women know their place exactly in the social hierarchy of the hunting world. Although they will toady to those few they feel to be grander than themselves, they will never fail to let their inferiors know that despite their best efforts they will never be skilled/fashionable/acceptable enough to be considered true foxhunters – or human beings. Although some Grande Dames are brilliant horsewomen, others are merely competent; all Grande Dames, however, are mounted on perfectly made and mannered (sometimes with the help of about 5ccs of Ace Promazine) equines that are the envy of all. The said equines appear to have an almost preternatural understanding that they will end up on a Frenchman's dinner table should they dump milady in the mud during a hunt. Grande Dame mothers have usually frightened at least one of their progeny into becoming a perfect and perfectly correct rider, an embryo Grande Dame, as it were.

GDs tend to exhibit their recondite social skills in all areas of social life, not just foxhunting. If one proudly tells a GD that young George has just been admitted to Princeton, one will be congratulated before the GD says how sad it is that the school is not what it once was. GDs always get a particular look on their faces when talking to a personage whose last name ends in a vowel.

You get the picture; anything that makes another person feel small provides a frisson of pleasure for this – not to put too fine a point on it – harpy. In short, imagine Oscar Wilde’s Lady Bracknell, the fearsomely haughty matriarch in The Importance of Being Ernest, crossed with a werewolf. A werewolf, mind you, descended from werewolves that came over on the Mayflower.

There is no male equivalent to the Grande Dame. (Grande Monsieurs? I'm grasping for a term here.) If there were, they would get their respective/collective blocks knocked off unless they had won their house boxing championships at Eton.


  1. LOVE the photo!

  2. The whole thing is wonderful. Y'all need to check out the book, Sketches in the Hunting Field by Alfred E. T. Watson. It's essentially the same thing, standard characters in the hunt field, but somewhat less humorous (not to say dry as dust). One of the characters they mention is The Hunting Parson -- few and far between these days.

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