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CRAIG BROWN: Kiss of death for marriage? Irritation… 

From the sound of her, Patrizia Reggiani would not be everybody’s cup of tea.

In 1972, she married Maurizio Gucci, the heir to the fashion family fortune. During her marriage, she lived the life of Riley, merrily spending 10,000 euros a month just on orchids.

She once said: ‘I would rather weep in a Rolls-Royce than be happy on a bicycle.’

They divorced in 1993. In 1995, Patrizia paid $300,000 to the cash-strapped owner of a pizzeria to gun down Maurizio outside his office in Milan.

The police were soon onto her. Three years later, Patrizia, now widely known as The Black Widow, was sentenced to 29 years in prison. Asked why she had hired a hitman, she replied, with commendable frankness: ‘My eyesight is not so good. I didn’t want to miss’.

In 1995, Patrizia Reggiani (pictured) paid $300,000 to the cash-strapped owner of a pizzeria to gun down Maurizio Gucci outside his office in Milan

In 2011, a judge offered her early release in exchange for work in the community. But she refused, explaining: ‘I’ve never worked in my life and I’m certainly not going to start now.’

Her villainy is soon to be the subject of a film starring Lady Gaga. But what interests me about her is her motive.

Interviewed recently by an Italian newspaper, she denied that she ever hated her former husband. ‘There was no hatred. I didn’t hate Maurizio, I never hated him. It was my irritation — he irritated me.’

I suspect she may be right to suggest that irritation runs deeper than hatred. Certainly, when I think of all my friends whose marriages have come to an end, it is irritation, rather than hatred, that is the cause.

At least with hatred you know where you are. You might even come to some sort of accommodation with the object of your hatred. But irritation, like the common midge, is hard to ignore, and even harder to resist.

I often dip into The Pillowbook Of Sei Shonagon, the occasional jottings of a highly strung noblewoman in tenth-century Japan. She liked to make lists of things she found irritating.

In 1972, she married Maurizio Gucci, the heir to the fashion family fortune. During her marriage, she lived the life of Riley, merrily spending 10,000 euros a month just on orchids

In 1972, she married Maurizio Gucci, the heir to the fashion family fortune. During her marriage, she lived the life of Riley, merrily spending 10,000 euros a month just on orchids

Most of these irritations are still with us today.

They include ‘children who sniffle as they walk’, men who drink too much and keep repeating themselves and ‘parents who, convinced that their ugly child is adorable, pet him and repeat the things he has said’. 

Inspired by Sei Shonagon, that wonderful actress Eleanor Bron compiled her own Pillowbook in 1985.

It, too, includes lists of irritating things. One of them is ‘people who start their sentences with the words “with respect”, in order to sound less abrasive and to conceal, even from themselves, their own arrogance’.

   

More from Craig Brown for the Daily Mail…

Other objects of her ire include ‘the person who has a habit of self-denigration, but is clearly put out when others take him at his own word’ and a particular type of partygoer.

‘You are trying to avoid a certain person at a party but the inevitable happens and he comes up and greets you with a condescending leer, saying: “Cheer up, it may never happen!” and “Why do you always look so depressed whenever I see you?” You bite back the reply: “Because whenever you see me, I see you.” ’

Irritation is the pushy guest that never leaves.

One of the pithiest portraits of an unhappy marriage comes in Patrick French’s masterly biography of V. S. Naipaul: ‘She irritated him; he was cruel to her; she became more feeble and pathetic; his irritation increased.’

Even more irritable was Kingsley Amis, who, over the years, transformed his irritability into an art form.

‘It was no wonder that people were so horrible when they started life as children,’ observes the tetchy protagonist of his novel One Fat Englishman.

His first wife, Hilly, noticed Kingsley’s irritability at their first meeting. He was only 23 years old, but already being driven to fury by perfectly nice people coming through the doors of a restaurant.

‘He’d start muttering, “Look at those fools, look at that idiot of a man,” and so on.

‘If doors got stuck, or he was held up by some elderly person getting off a bus, or the wind blew his hair all over the place, he would snarl and grimace in the most irritating fashion.’

Irritability breeds irritation; once it starts, it becomes self-generating. In Thursday’s column, I will continue to test the truth of The Black Widow’s acid little apercu.


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