LOOKING AT WHAT GOES ON UNDER THE CLOTHES
The candle in the scarlet-painted candlestick was burnt low and had a shroud. The bottle-candle was high and gave a good light.
Spring and evening sky showed between undrawn cotton curtains.
Mrs Brown sat on a stout mahogany chair before her dressing-table, and Velvet knelt behind her unhooking her dress from neck to waist at the back. The dress was dark blue rep, built firm. It was like unhooking the strain on a shrunk sofa-covering. Hook after hook Velvet travelled down till at last she reached far below the waist. Then Mrs Brown stood up and the dark blue dress dropped to the floor, leaving her in a princess petticoat like a great cotton lily. The strings of this, untied at neck and waist by Velvet, disclosed her in bust-bodice, stays and dark-blue cloth knickers.
observations: The life described in this book is very strange: the family lives next to a slaughter-house, and they are plainly quite working-class in some ways, though with aspirations. Enid Bagnold herself was not at all working-class – apparently she is Samantha Cameron’s great grandmother – but although this book is completely fantastical and unreal in many ways, the setting is not, and is very convincing – you wonder how Bagnold knew.
It’s not exactly clear what constitutes a ‘princess’ petticoat, and this picture doesn’t help much.(Hello? Ken? Can you help AGAIN?) *** YES HE DID, see below in the comments *** Her stays consist of a ‘metal fencework’, and one of the tips has worked its way through the material and cut her skin –
’ought to get whalebone,’ said Mrs Brown, sniffing at her own economy.She should have had her corset made of coutil, which we learned in this entry stops the bones poking through.
She then tells her daughter ‘Pray to God y’don’t get fat, child’. Velvet is aghast, but the mother says
‘You can’t be what you don’t look.’
‘You can, you can! You are!’-- Velvet says. But the mother says ‘KEEP thin.’
Of all the gnomic and strange exchanges in the book, this is one of the most interesting. The mother is most unusual in fiction in being extremely loving and supportive, but having very little to say. But she still dominates the book, and is quite the creation.
The image of the shrunk sofa-covering is wonderful.
Links on the blog: The book has appeared before, on Grand National day of course. For more Dress Down Sunday, click on the label below. From a similar era: Miss Pettigrew considering corsets and whalebone.
The pictures are an advert for petticoats and a 1933 entry in the Spirella corset catalogue.