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A speculative note on The Mansions Myra Allanovna.

In William Faulkner's novel The Mansion, a couturiere of male neckties named Myra Allanovna makes her first and only appearance in his work within the book's art and genealogy leitmotifs (Dasher 361). Joseph Blotner has shown that Faulkner had some minor associations with Russians, but James B. Meriwether recalled that Saxe Commins, while reading proof for The Mansion, recognized in Allanovna's characterization a New Yorker of his acquaintance; unfortunately, Meriwether did not remember the woman's name (Blotner 944, 1224; Meriwether). I believe a source for Myra is Lucilla Mara di Vescovi Whitman (1893-1971), daughter of a Professor at the University of Rome. (1) Carl Nagin says that Countess Mara (who was not technically a countess) "traced her lineage to the first bishops of Venice and to Tintoretto's patron Marco de Vescovi, whose daughter Faustina married that great Mannerist painter" (77). At some point, presumably in 1938, she made what Sidney Pulitzer called "her famous trip across America" in order to test the waters for what became her tie business (Pulitzer). That same year she "incorporated herself as a cravateer, and a countess" and ended up owning and operating, under the corporate name Countess Mara, "a highly specialized store, bearing the sign 'Men's Shop,' on Park Avenue at Fifty-first Street"; the address was 338 Park Avenue (Hellman 319, 318).

Countess Mara ties never come in conventional stripes or polka dots, but it is possible to buy examples in solid colors, though this requires a slight extra effort. Such deviations from the Mara line are not displayed.... The customer has to ask for them, and they are then produced from a closed drawer, not unlike a bottle of Scotch in wartime. The Countess does not really approve of them. In 1946, when sixty thousand dollars' worth of ties were stolen from her store, the robbers won her respect by taking only ones with designs and by festooning the chairs around the place with solid-color numbers, in what she took to be a sardonically discriminating gesture. (Hellman 319) (2)

In The Mansion, Ratliff appears to buy one tie of solid color and one with a floral design (482, 539).

In addition to flowers, Mara's ties "portray scenes featuring golf, tennis, polo, skiing, horse racing, giraffes, sea gulls, camels, bison, lobsters, ferns, fish, deer, mermaids, shells, vultures, ... dancing girls, geese, Roman heads, [and] incidents in Aesop's Fables and The Arabian Nights" (Hellman 319-20). Time lists more design examples and says there were "a few less discreet themes [that] have to be kept under the vest in polite company" ("Neck-Lace" 94). "At the bottom of the front face of each tie are the printed initials 'CM,' surmounted by a crown. Mrs. Whitman's solid-color ties bear no signature." In 1949, Mara's ties ranged in price from "six-fifty to twenty dollars"--expensive at the time (Hellman 320, 318), but in The Mansion during the Spanish Civil War period, Gavin Stevens says Myra's prices ranged up to $150, and Charles Mallison confirms that Ratliff bought two ties for $75 apiece (483, 617). In May of 1956, the New York Times reported that prices ranged from $7.50 to $100 (McCarty 14). Mara's customers could afford her prices. They included Faulkner's publisher Bennett Cerf as well as David Sarnoff, Eddie Rickenbacker, Nelson Rockefeller, Marc Connelly, Leopold Stokowski, Frank Sinatra, Eugene O'Neill, J. Edgar Hoover, and Time adds William Randolph Hearst Sr., Noel Coward, David Dubinsky, and Harry Truman (Hellman 319-20; "Neck-Lace" 94).

In 1956, the countess was spending most of her time in Florence, Italy, from whence she mailed design ideas to New York, perhaps directly to her factory in Poughkeepsie; each design was "limited to fifteen dozen and distributed sparsely to selected stores" (McCarty 14). In 1958, she added shirts, socks, and jewelry to her line when she opened a second Manhattan shop at 110 E. 57th Street ("Countess Mara, Cravat" 15).

As of 1963, the countess had sold her company to Wembly Ties (later known as Wemco), owned by New Orleans's Pulitzer family, and relocated to Bergamo, Italy, although she remained a stockholder and "an active absentee designer and selector of material. She rarely visits America" ("Countess Mara, Tiemaker" 126; Hellman 331). Mara Bagier says that, according to papers filed by Mrs. Vir Den's lawyer and executor, the countess was residing at Via Porta Dipinta 15, Bergamo, when she died on February 11, 1971 ("Countess Mara").

University of Nevada, Las Vegas


Bagier, Mara. "Countess Mara.'" Message to the author. 14 July 2008. E-mail.

--. "Daughters." Message to the author. 23 June 2010. E-mail.

Blotner, Joseph. Faulkner: A Biography. Vol. 2. New York: Random, 1974.

"Choosy Burglars Get $75,000 Merchandise." New York Times 13 Nov. 1946, late ed.: 36. ProQuest. 4 Sept. 2012.

"Countess Mara, Cravat Creator, Adds New Lines." New York Times 20 June 1958, late ed.: 15. ProQuest. 4 Sept. 2012.

"Countess Mara, Tiemaker, Introduced Lines for Fall." New York Times 23 June 1963, late ed., Business and Financial sec.: F14. ProQuest. 4 Sept. 2012.

Dasher, Thomas E. William Faulkner's Characters: An Index to the Published and Unpublished Fiction. New York: Garland, 1981.

Faulkner, William. The Mansion. 1959. William Faulkner: Novels 1957-1962. New York: Lib. of Amer., 1999. 327-721.

Hellman, Geoffrey T. "The Unusually Pleasant Necktie: Countess Mara." 1949. Mrs. de Peysters Parties and Other Lively Studies from The New Yorker. New York: Macmillan, 1963. 318-31.

McCarty, Agnes. "After 26 Years, the Countess Still Has Last Word in Ties." New York Times 30 May 1956, late ed.: 14. ProQuest. 4 Sept. 2012.

Meriwether, James B. Personal interview. 3 Oct. 1995.

Nagin, Carl. "A Life Discovered." Art and Antiques Jan. 1999: 76-81.

"Neck-Lace." Time 2 Dec. 1946: 92-94.

Pulitzer, Sidney. Telephone interview. 12 Aug. 2000.

(1) While Geoffrey T. Hellman attests Whitman was born in 1893, her granddaughter Mara Bagier tells me that the countess rarely told the truth about her age and doubts that she was born in 1893 since Bagier's own mother, the eldest child, was born in Rome in 1908 (Hellman 324; "Daughters").

(2) For more on the theft, see "Choosy Burglars"
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Title Annotation:Countess Mara
Author:Horton, Merrill
Publication:The Faulkner Journal
Date:Sep 22, 2012
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