Madensky Square by Eva Ibbotson

published 1998

I went backstage to fetch Alice, who was just lowering what looked like the mossy nest of a Parisian chaffinch on to her curls.

‘Oh Alice, what a marvellous hat!’ I said when I’d embraced her.

‘Yes, it’s good isn’t it? I got it at Yvonne’s. But listen; there were three straws in her window, all with identical brims: big ones. One trimmed with roses, one with mimosa and one with cherries. Imagine it, Sanna, exactly the same brims in every case!’

I too was shocked. How can anyone think that roses, mimosa and cherries can all be treated in the same way? For roses the brim must be wider, softer; mimosa (about which I’m doubtful anyway — one so easily feels one is in the presence of a hatchery for miniature chickens) needs to be wired on with a lot of greenery, and cherries really only work on a boater. You have to be quite rakish and impertinent when wearing fruit.

observations: Of course I was bound to love this book for the blog (previous entries here and here), because it is full of clothes descriptions, but it’s also a charming, affecting story of love and friendship and food and children and poverty and mother-daughter relationships.

In fact, the book several times mentions Sappho and her daughter Kleis, and the embellished headband, and the very poem that CiB translated from the Ancient Greek for this entry… so headwear a bit of a theme.

The Viennese setting is lovely – the opera, the serious citizens, the food, the obsession with the past and with matters of morals and honour. It is all kept from tweeness because of the knowledge that the First World War is coming soon… and life is going to turn very serious for the musical comedy military in the book. And the book takes the emotions very seriously too:
‘To have felt anything so intensely, so utterly. To be so open to sorrow. I’ve never felt anything like that, Susanna. It’s what we all want, to be entirely open to life.’
Many of Susanna’s customers also want dresses inspired by current stage productions – something like this Bakst costume on the blog a couple of weeks ago. The buying and selling of hats 20 years later was a major feature of this entry, which explains the effect of the First World War on the millinery trade. More Eva Ibbotson, and more from this book, by clicking on the label below.

Credit again to the rather wonderful people at Pan MacMillan’s Bello, who have republished Madensky Square as an ebook.

The picture is The Hat Shop by Henry Tonks


  1. Moira - I just love the dress shop theme of this one! And it's interesting (I know I've mentioned this before on your blog, but still...) how we don't have milliners the way we do. Hats are not at all the serious matter they used to be. You do see them in some circumstances, but certainly not as a part of a lot of women's daily lives.

    1. As you know, I can't resist a dress shop or a hat shop for an entry (I'm just looking at another one at the moment!). And yes, it was such a huge change: it's really remarkable when you look at old photos of crowds, where every single person - man and woman - is wearing a hat. So different now...

  2. Moira, I was beginning to believe we had a lot more books in common, until......

    1. I'll try to find something tougher for next week Col.

  3. I love the picture. The comments on hats are funny and show how little I know about hats.

    1. Yes I don't think anyone now thinks about hats the same way, or has rules about what flower goes with what brim...


Post a Comment