Saturday, 12 May 2012

Second-best mantles and crinolines

the book:

The Old Wives' Tale by Arnold Bennett

published 1908    Book 4 Ch 2





Constance [was] in her bedroom, withdrawing crumpled balls of paper from the sleeves of her second-best mantle. Constance scarcely ever wore this mantle. In theory it was destined for chapel on wet Sundays; in practice it had remained long in the wardrobe, Sundays having been obstinately fine for weeks and weeks together. It was a mantle that Constance had never really liked. But she was not going to Knype to meet Sophia in her everyday mantle; and she had no intention of donning her best mantle for such an excursion. To make her first appearance before Sophia in the best mantle she had—this would have been a sad mistake of tactics! Not only would it have led to an anti-climax on Sunday, but it would have given to Constance the air of being in awe of Sophia. Now Constance was in truth a little afraid of Sophia… but she did not mean to show her fear in her mantle. After all, she was the elder. And she had her dignity too—and a lot of it—tucked away in her secret heart... So she had decided on the second-best mantle, which, being seldom used, had its sleeves stuffed with paper to the end that they might keep their shape and their 'fall.' The little balls of paper were strewed over the bed.

observations: A lovely description of the decisions women make about clothes. A mantle is outdoor-wear - could be more like a cloak or, as in this case, have sleeves. Constance is going to meet her sister for the first time in 30 years. Sophia eloped to Paris with an unsuitable young man ("After all," her heart said, "I must be very beautiful, for I have attracted the pearl of men!") and lived through a busy time of history, including the Paris Commune and siege, apparently without noticing much:

Sophia, in her modestly stylish black, mechanically noticed how much easier it was for attired women to sit in a carriage now that crinolines had gone. That was the sole impression made upon her by this glimpse of the last fete of the Napoleonic Empire.

Crinolines feature a lot in this book – they arrive at the beginning and are gone at the end. Early on, Aunt Harriet climbing into a small carriage is described as being “an operation like threading a needle with cotton too thick.” But once in, “her hoops distended in sudden release, filling the waggonette.”

Links up with: More Old Wives Tale
here and here – this book is packed full of descriptions of clothes.
The photo is from the National Galleries of Scotland, via Flickr.

No comments:

Post a Comment