The Novel Cure: Literary prescriptions for relying on your beauty


Click to follow

Ailment: Relying on your beauty

Cure: The Roman Spring of Mrs Stone by Tennessee Williams

Banking on your looks for love and approbation is a finite game. When the lustre of youth gives way to wrinkles, age-spots and grey hairs, where will you go to find your sense of self-worth? Tennessee Williams's little-known novella about a fiftysomething actress who moves to Rome after her husband dies will remind you of the importance of developing non-surgery-related methods of bolstering your self-esteem when the trump-card of beauty is lost.

The famous face of Mrs Stone has appeared in thousands of plays, and is still sought after by advertisers. But after a recent humiliation when she was laughed off stage attempting to play Juliet, the transition from dove to hawk seems irrevocable. Fleeing New York for the quieter streets of Rome, however, an inescapable "drift" takes over her days, as she moves pointlessly from one room to another in her luxurious apartment, and from street to street, looking for a recognition that never comes. When she is befriended by an ageing Contessa who leads her into the arms of Paolo, a young man with flawless skin who lives off the generosity of women such as herself, she seems at first to have found a new spark of passion and a raison d'être. But Paolo is himself insufferably vain, and as Mrs Stone tries desperately to boost her standing with him by showering him with press-cuttings eulogising her talents, she sinks deeper and deeper into "the drift", knowing that whatever last shreds of dignity she had left are now gone.

If only Mrs Stone had developed the habit of judging herself as she judged her husband, Tom, a plump little man with no physical grace yet whom she had truly loved. Let this perfectly-pitched, mesmerising tale catalyse all you beauties out there – male and female – into fostering those qualities that grow rather than fade with the years.