Period Piece by Gwen Raverat
Because it was Queen Elizabeth's Diamond Jubilee in the UK, we did a weeksworth of books with a first publication date of 1952. As these entries were so popular, we've found a few more to feature.
Chapter 1, events in the late 19th Century
[The narrator is piecing together the story of her mother’s young single years, from her letters]
The gaieties, dinners and tennis continue all the summer, till in mid-September Maud went with Aunt Cara to pay some visits in Scotland. But first she bought a new coat:
‘After looking at lots of dowdy things, at last we were shown an exceedingly pretty brown brocaded velvet, a kind of coat and yet a mantle, trimmed with lovely fur – I think it was black fox which was brown. But the price was very extravagant – seven guineas. The fur cost a guinea a yard, the clerk said. There were about ten yards of fur on it.’This kind of arithmetic puzzle - ten yards of guinea-a-yard fur on a seven-guinea coat – would never have troubled my mother at all. Aunt Cara evidently pressed her to buy it, but my mother remained firm. It was ‘too good’. So she bought a three-guinea coat, of ‘mixed red and blue cloth in stripes’ with ‘a feather trimming’ and ‘capey sleeves’ ‘as stylish as can be’.
observations: Memoirs of childhood are a very chancy genre – the authors are often a lot too pleased with themselves (“we were mad in our family! Granny was so lovely! Uncle Arthur was a card!”) and the stories are cutesy and nostalgia-tipped. And there’s usually a lot about extraordinarily dull forebears whom even the author never knew. Gwen Raverat’s book looks as though it might have any of these faults, but it doesn’t, it is a fabulous book, guaranteed to amuse anyone. For a start she was Charles Darwin’s granddaughter, which does make her family a bit more interesting, though it is the charm of the stories which is so winning. Her mother is American and has come to Cambridge (UK) to visit: she will meet Gwen’s father and marry him.
Gwen Raverat, who was a professional artist, illustrated this book herself, so we can’t hope to better her splendid pictures – can only provide pictures where she didn’t. But we will certainly visit the book again, because there is a lot about clothes in it…
A guinea is £1.05p, approx. $1.60.
Links up with: Fur coats here and here and fur trimmings here and here.
The illustration is of evening coats by the Paris designer Poiret, from Wikimedia Commons.