Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen
published 1817 chapter 27
[Part of a letter from Isabella Thorpe to Catherine Morland]
The spring fashions are partly down; and the hats the most frightful you can imagine…
We happened to sit by the Mitchells, and they pretended to be quite surprised to see me out. I knew their spite: at one time they could not be civil to me, but now they are all friendship; but I am not such a fool as to be taken in by them. You know I have a pretty good spirit of my own. Anne Mitchell had tried to put on a turban like mine, as I wore it the week before at the concert, but made wretched work of it—it happened to become my odd face, I believe, at least Tilney told me so at the time, and said every eye was upon me; but he is the last man whose word I would take. I wear nothing but purple now: I know I look hideous in it, but no matter—it is your dear brother's favourite colour. Lose no time, my dearest, sweetest Catherine, in writing to him and to me, Who ever am, etc.
observations: Heroine Catherine is shocked by this letter, as it shows Isabella in her true light: ‘She must think me an idiot, or she could not have written so; but perhaps this has served to make her character better known to me than mine is to her. I see what she has been about. She is a vain coquette, and her tricks have not answered.’
Northanger Abbey is the simplest of Jane Austen’s works, but is still full of delights. The idea of wearing purple even though ‘I know I look hideous’ is easily worthy of Lydia Bennett from Pride and Prejudice, and although too much frivolity in clothes (as we have seen) is never a good thing, Jane Austen takes clothes and appearances very seriously, and her letters are full of references to shopping, to choosing materials, to ribbons and hats and stockings.
With thanks to Barbara (again) for the suggestion.
Links up with: Northanger Abbey has featured before. Couldn’t be more different, yet somehow just the same: Neely in Valley of the Dolls wears purple in this entry.
The picture is The Purple Dress by William Glackens and is in the Smithsonian American Art Museum, and is not hideous at all. The photo was taken by pohick2 and submitted to the Wikipedia Loves Art project.