My past: reminiscences of the courts of Austria and Bavaria; together with the true story of the events leading up to the tragic death of Rudolph, crown prince of Austria

A weathered biography over 100 years old provides detail about Marie’s life as a Baroness and Countess in the heyday of Austrian royalty. Most of the beginning details her devotion to her aunt, the Empress, who pulls her into court society (and gets her to marry a cardboard shrub of a man, George Larisch, so that Marie can spend time with the Empress, but George has other ideas). She frequently travels to Vienna for shopping expeditions and continues to spend time with her powerful aunt until she is pulled into the Crown Prince’s love affair with Baroness Mary Vetsera. The ultimate end of the affair is murder/suicide, known as the Mayerling Incident, leaving the Crown Prince dead and the crown’s heir falling to the infamous Franz Ferdinand whose assassination was the first domino in setting off WWI. Some interesting bits about court life and the Empress’s obsession with maintaining a youthful figure, by wrapping wet towels around her waist while she slept, poultices of strawberries while in season, wearing a night mask lined with raw veal, taking baths in olive oil and drinking horrible concoctions of egg whites mixed with salt. Her shampoo (once a month) was raw eggs and brandy, rinsed with disinfectant.
I was turned onto this book from the footnotes of reading that exhausting tome, The Waste Land. Apparently Eliot knew the Countess, and she is the Marie, Marie of the poem. Footnote 4 for Burial of the Dead, Bin gar. . . “I’m not Russian at all, I come from Lithuania, pure German” mentions that this episode derives from Eliot’s acquaintance with the Countess. “The countess believed in fortune-telling by cards. She was murdered at Lake Leman (see line 182).” – INCORRECT. Line 182 “By the waters of Leman I sat down and wept… ” is a riff on Psalms 137 “By the waters of Babylon there we sat down and wept”. Despite the note, I find no corroboration that she was murdered. Her Wikipedia entry notes this source as saying she died in poverty in 1940. Her own memoirs note a few significant drownings, that of the woman who waits for her son to come home after drowning seven years ago and that of King Ludwig II (who Marie claims is holding his doctor underwater for another murder-suicide). Lac Leman (known to us as Lake Geneva) was where Eliot was hanging out and writing the poem.