A Challenge: The Beckoning Lady by Margery Allingham

Published 1955 chapter 15


Prune only knew of two dressmakers, Miss Spice in Pontisbright and Edmund Norman in London and Paris. Because it was to be the greatest day in her life she had gone, not unnaturally, to Norman. She had told him everything about herself and left it to him. She had the height and figure of a model, and at the only school she had ever attended they had taught her how to walk, if little else. The rest of the miracle had been performed by Charlie Luke, who walked now a little behind her looking as if he knew it. Her dress was made of tailored cream, which flattered her skin and her hair, and her shoes and long gloves and little handbag were all fashioned from the palest milk chocolate, or something very like it in tint and texture. Round her throat she wore the jade necklace, which deepened rather than echoed the colour of her eyes, and in her hand was the flagrant posy for a lover which Old Harry had wound according to the ancient way.

She was so ecstatically happy that she glowed with it as if she wore a glory, and every man who set eyes on her that day remembered her for the rest of her life.

observations: This appearance has been set up for a long time - in the book and on this blog. The Honourable Prunella is dismissed and described as rather feeble throughout the book, everyone is impatient with her. When policeman Charlie Luke falls in love with her, his friends are horrified. The couple come from very different backgrounds, and there is a funny scene where Prune goes to meet Luke’s mother, alone: of course this turns out alarmingly well (the mother invites Prune to stay the night: ‘Luke, who had the most vivid recollections of the upheaval which had preceded the weekend visit of an aunt way back in 1936, was astounded’). During the village-fete-style event they are attending, her appearance is nicely trailed: ‘Have you seen Prune?... she used to be such a dull girl.’

Love and a makeover – what more could you want? The transformative effects of romance are something we all hope for, and I cherish such descriptions in books.

This is one of the very first books I wanted to illustrate in Clothes in Books, but I think the picture in my head was never going to appear, so after more than a year of looking - well, this is not the perfect picture, because that probably doesn’t exist, but it is very lovely. It is from 1956, and I found it on the beautiful Clover-vintage site

The Clothes in Books Challenge is this: If anyone can find a better illo for Prune’s outfit, I would love to see it, and would use it on the blog. Tweet or email or Facebook.

***ADDED LATER: you can see the prize-winning entries here.

Links on the blog
: Margery Allingham has appeared before with her amazing thriller Tiger in the Smoke. The Eye of Love extract is the opposite to this one: Love wins, but the makeover was not necessary.


  1. Moira - Oh, I really do love that description of the outfit! You've done a fine job with the 'photo too, even if it wasn't what you dreamed of. Nice that you featured this aspect of the novel too. It's a nice exploration of a little more of Luke's character.

  2. I want that dress and I want that woman's figure. Not even spanx are going to get me there.

  3. I know, Sarah, me too. Sigh.

    Yes, Margot, I love the relationship between Luke and Prune here, I think Luke was a great addition to the later Campion books.

  4. not easy! found some that fulfil two, though not all, of the conditions...
    http://sin.stb.s-msn.com/i/6D/C519553283877ADFDC7D5C2D68CF82.jpg angelina in jade
    http://www.chicagotribune.com/media/photo/2012-09/72381454.jpg tavi with a chocolate handbag
    http://photos.posh24.com/p/1411309/z/red_carpet/emma_stone_cream_colored_jonat.jpg and Emma looking ecstatically happy

  5. http://www.flickr.com/photos/53035820@N02/5932510452/in/photostream oh, and this is nice too!

  6. I love the bit where Campion and his wife Amanda reconcile themselves to Prune - both she and Luke come from 'manors', just very different kinds.

  7. Rich - Yes I thought that bit about the manors was funny and charming.

    Barbara - well done, I'll be looking over your entries carefully.


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