Delving into the Intangibles


John Singer Sargent (1856-1925) was an Italian-born American painter who so scandalized the Salon in Paris in 1884 with his now famous Portrait of Madame X (Madame Pierre Gautreau) he was forced to relocate to London.

Such was the impact of Madame X, shown posing in a low-cut black dress with golden shoulder straps, gentlemen wanted to fall onto their knees before her sculptured profile and ladies suffered pangs of jealousy from her nonchalant charm, or so it was said.

If you wish to judge for yourself, you should visit the Metropolitan Museum in New York. I, for one, would like to see with my own eyes a portrait capable of making such a deep impression on men and women the world over.

What exactly is the attraction we call “charm”?

Needless to say, tangible beauty, visible from the outside, is important. But, don’t forget, there exists another sort of charm that one can neither touch nor see, something as natural and elusive as a fragrance in the air.

It has the power to attract, without calculation, people who come under its spell. A subtle and intangible power! Even the charmer does not necessarily notice it.

Moreover, charm does not come into existence unless there is someone to receive it. And only when the receiver has the sensitivity to feel and appreciate its value can it work its magic.

Where on earth does such charm lurk and how does it operate on the person who responds to it?

If you do not have good taste, regardless of how much you make up or dress up, charm will never flow.

Even if you are good looking, if you do not behave properly, the same thing applies.

You may be a good conversationalist, but if what you say lacks intelligence and culture, you will lack charm.

On the other hand, though beauty may decay with age, on condition that you mature beautifully and stay as refined and elegant as ever, your inherent charm will more than make up for the loss of its tangible elements.

By looking in the mirror you may admire tangible beauty, but any intangible charm remains invisible.

I regard Marilyn Monroe as someone very attractive. Fifty years after her death, she resides in the collective memory, variously, as a luminescent movie star and legendary sex symbol, a dumb blonde, the goose that lays the golden egg, a companion of big shots, et cetera.

But if you judge the woman named Marilyn Monroe according to these clichéd sobriquets, you miss the point: your sensitivity is not acute enough.

Marilyn personified the charm that cannot be seen from outside: natural innocence; detachment; delicacy of sensibility behind the public mask; strength of will; and so on.

The Marilyn of Hollywood was a peacock spreading its feathers; but the real Marilyn, it is said, was as delicate as a sweet canary.

Some words she left to us are pertinent: "You are judged not by what’s inside you, only by appearances. Hollywood is a place where they’ll pay you a thousand dollars for a kiss and fifty cents for your soul."

I appreciate the intelligence of the Marilyn who looked at reality with cool eyes and declared it to be so.

I have touched on the stories of two attractive women here. If there were space, I would also talk about some very attractive men. But that will have to wait until next time.

Except to say one of these top-flight guys is my “Monsieur X.” Yes, my late husband.

“Oh, how I loved him…” Let me do the “Monroe talk,” and smooch!

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