The Green Hat by Michael Arlen
published 1924 chapter 1
It has occurred to the writer to call this unimportant history The Green Hat because a green hat was the first thing about her that he saw: as also it was, in a way, the last thing about her that he saw. It was bright green, of a sort of felt, and bravely worn: being, no doubt, one of those that women who have many hats affect pour le sport…
"Do you know if Mr. March is in?" asked the voice of the green hat. But I could not see her face for the shadow of the brim, for it was a piratical brim, such as might very possibly defy the burning suns of El Dorado… Still she looked up, thoughtfully. She was tall, not very tall, but as tall as becomes a woman. Her hair, in the shadow of her hat, may have been any colour, but I dared swear that there was a tawny whisper to it. And it seemed to dance, from beneath her hat, a very formal dance on her cheeks. One had, with her, a sense of the conventions; and that she had just been playing six sets of tennis…
She stood carelessly, like the women in Georges Barbier's almanacks, Falbalas et Fanfreluches, who know how to stand carelessly. Her hands were thrust into the pockets of a light brown leather jacket -- pour le sport -- which shone quite definitely in the lamplight: it was wide open at the throat, and had a high collar of the fur of a few minks. I once had a friend who was a taxidermist, and that was how I knew that.
observations: Clothes in Books has been running for nine months, this is the 274th entry, and it has taken me this long to find a picture I felt could illustrate The Green Hat, one of the first books I put on my original list of essentials. The book was a massive best-seller in its day – it was racy, Bohemian, very readable, with a melodramatic plot involving high moral principles and low sexual shenanigans. The lady in the green hat is called Iris Storm – what a name! – and she is famous for having ‘a pagan body and a Chiselhurst mind’. She is a heroine that only a man could have conjured up, but she is great fun, and the whole book is still a splendid read. Claud Cockburn writes very perceptively about it in his study Bestseller, a 1970s look at ‘the books everyone read 1900-1939’ – apart from anything else, if you like this kind of novel from the past (and Clothes in Books does), Cockburn gives you a wonderful reading list.
George Barbier was a famous French illustrator with a familiar style – I’d never heard of him but a quick look on Google Images was revelatory. Falbalas et Fanfreluches means something like frills and flounces, and was the name of a collection of his sketches.
Links up with: More hat stories here and here. For more books set in the 1920s, click on the tab below.
The picture is by William Orpen, is of his first wife, Grace, and comes from the wonderful Athenaeum.org website. Orpen’s pictures have featured on the blog before, here and here.