Don't Tell Alfred by Nancy Mitford
published 1960 chapter 1
I went to London by the 9.7. I had planned to do a little shopping; somebody had told me of Chinese robes in the sales, perfect for dinner at home since they would cover up everything. .. I took a large canvas holdall to contain the Chinese robe if I bought it.
But oh dear, I don’t think I’ve ever looked such a fool as I did in that Chinese robe, with my brown walking shoes, enormous beneath them, hair untidy from dragging off a hat, leather bag clasped to bosom because it had £28 in it and I knew that people snatched bags at sales. The assistant earnestly said think of the difference if I were carefully coiffee and maquillee and parfumee and manicuree and pedicuree, wearing Chinese sandals (next department, 33/6) and lying on a couch in a soft light. It was no good, however – my imagination could not get to work on all these hypotheses; I felt both hot and bothered; I tore the robe from me and fled from the displeasure of the saleswoman.
Observations: Fanny Wincham, wife to an academic, is up from Oxford for the day. She narrates 3 of Nancy Mitford’s novels, and apart from having a sharp attitude to life, seems to bear little resemblance to her creator. Perhaps she is living Nancy’s alternate life: Oxford, children and husband, rather than Paris, no children, and unsatisfactory lover. ( Although Paris is about to feature big in Fanny’s life, and all those French words will come in handy.) NM is good on what it feels like to have high hopes of an outfit, and look in the mirror and be sorely disappointed – although she herself dressed at Paris couturiers, seems always to have been beautifully-turned out (“the trouble with you Nancy” said the writer and critic Cyril Connolly “is that one can’t imagine you sitting on one’s lap”*) and had the ideal figure for clothes – after a ball in Paris, other guests assembled at a ladies’ lunch said “we will now discuss Nancy’s waist.”
That 33/6 is a pricetag: a bit more than £1.50 in current UK money, between 2 and 3 US dollars. There will be another Chinese robe in the next entry.
*She replied that she had never sat on anyone’s lap, nor had she ever allowed anyone to kiss her – "almost true" she added when reporting this to Evelyn Waugh.
Links up with: more Mitford here and here. Waugh and Mitford connect over Brideshead, and Gilbert Pinfold is mentioned in Don’t tell Alfred.
The photograph is of French actress and silent movie star Stacia Napierkowska, and is from the Library of Congress. She featured before in this entry.