Brat Farrar by Josephine Tey

published 1949   chapter 11

She turned to go down for one more rehearsal with the cook -- their third cook in the last twelve months -- when she was waylaid by Lana, their "help." Lana came from the village, and had gilt hair and varnished fingernails and the local version of the current make-up. She "obliged" only because her "boy-friend" worked in the stables. She would sweep and dust, she explained when she first came, because that was "all right," but she would not wait at table because that was "menial." Bee had longed to tell her that no one with her hands, or her breath, or her scent, or her manners, would ever be allowed to hand an Ashby a plate; but she had learned to be politic. She explained that there was, in any case, no question of waiting at table; the Ashbys always waited on themselves.

Lana had come to say that the "vacuum was vomiting instead of swallowing," and domestic worries closed once more over Bee's head and swamped domestic drama.

observations: Brat Farrar has featured before, and that entry explains more about the plot.

The book is plainly set around the time it was published, and although there is remarkably little mention of the 1939-45 war, there is a lot about the way upper and upper middle class families in England had changed over recent years. It is easy to mock the obsession with their hard times, and in general in Clothes in Books we can’t mention Josephine Tey without going on about her snobbery. This time we can only offer this: Obviously Bee is hoping for a servant who can demonstrate the same charm, sweetness and kindness as shown in this thought.

And as a sociological document it is fascinating. For someone who is so Scottish Tey has a remarkable love of the English countryside, and an understanding of the minutiae of rural life. She explains in one part of the book how the local families travel to a county show, and how the arrangements and accommodation have changed over the years – that sounds dull, but it is a lovely explication of a tiny corner of the world. Horses don’t feature much in the rest of her work, but you would guess from this book that she knew and loved them.

We’ve had a few clothes mysteries on the blog, and this book presented us with a crinoline hat (as worn by a worthy lady to church) – we can kind of imagine what this is, but it’s hard to find a definition. Also, a chance to use our much-loved currency converter: an income of £12 000 pa, after tax, is discussed, and seen as great riches, and indeed it represents around £273 000 ($440 000) in modern terms.

The picture is of the Hollywood star Lana Turner, and is from Wikimedia Commons. She was famously discovered in a drugstore, and played a waitress in the 1946 film of The Postman Always Rings Twice. Lizabeth Scott, a film actress from the same era, can be seen and compared in this entry from a couple of days ago.


  1. Moira - I've always thought of that as one of Tey's strengths as a writer - the ability to depict a setting and context even if it wasn't her own. Thanks for the reminder of how good she was at that, and that 'photo is so lovely and appropriate.

  2. I haven't read this one of Tey's but I must give it a go. i love the green dress.


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