Wednesday, 30 October 2013

Women sharing flats. Clothes. Lives.






Today's blog is about women in shared accommodation: flats (or apartments), student halls of residence (or dorms), hostels and clubs. The setups feature a lot in 20th century books - why is it so popular? And what happened to all the men? - we don't find them much.... 


The blog entry appears on the Guardian newspaper's books blog, here. These are the opening paragraphs:

Two young women move into a student Hall of Residence in London, and have this conversation:

‘It would be nice if we went around and talked like an Edna O’Brien novel. It would suit us.’

‘Yes it would become us’ I said. ‘We haven’t the class for Girls of Slender Means.’

Hilary Mantel knows exactly the tradition her 1995 novel An Experiment in Love is tapping into. Set in 1970, it is the perfect template of the women-living-together book: here are the shared clothes - a hideous-sounding but very fashionable fox-fur coat - the rivalries and jealousies, the secrets, the alliances. (And an uncredited cameo appearance by Margaret Thatcher). 

Because after all, what do women do when they grow up? They move to the big city, where they share flats, rooming-houses, hostels or halls together, in twos and threes and fours. One of them is anxiously pursuing a career, but another just wants to get married. One will have an affair with someone who is married, and one will have an unwanted pregnancy....

Read on here.


Most of the books mentioned have featured on the blog, including Tales of the City, The Bell Jar, and The Country Girls. The Schiaparelli dress is here:




The Town in Bloom features a couple of times, and so does The Best of Everything. Or you can click on the author labels below.


10 comments:

  1. Moira: My father was a trapper for over 50 years. When I was growing up I had the chance to feel the fur of various animals. Fox fur has a luxurious sensuous feel.

    I have opinions on trapping that reflect having grown up with a father who was a trapper and having represented Indian bands where trapping is still part of a traditional lifestyle for numerous band members.

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    1. Bill, how interesting. You might like to read the comments on 2 of my previous entries: http://clothesinbooks.blogspot.co.uk/2013/10/give-corpse-bad-name-by-elizabeth.html and http://clothesinbooks.blogspot.co.uk/2013/10/my-friend-flora-by-jane-duncan.html - another Canadian blog friend came and commented on the furs there.

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  2. Moira - You know, you're right. There are a lot of novels where women share flats. You have examples of young women (I'm thinking, for instance, of Agatha Christie's Third Girld) and older women too (e.g. Barry Matiland's The Marx Sisters. It's a really interesting phenomenon. Thanks for the 'food for thought.'

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    1. I'd forgotten about the Marx Sisters - a great example of older women together. I do think it's a fruitful ground for detective story writers.

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  3. Skunks are avoided in Saskatchewan because of the intense smell they can project but more feared because they tend to be rabid. There is a form of trap that sometimes can kill them before they can emit the liquid that smells.

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    1. I guessed you'd know about them, given your father's profession!

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  4. I can remember my sisters sharing a house in Kennington in the 80's - both single girls....pursuing careers, both got married and stayed married - unsure about the rest and I'm not going to ask!

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    1. Don't ask don't tell. I don't think girls need to get away from home to get quite so much freedom these days. In my longlost youth we wanted to get into flats for perfectly clear reasons involving breaking the rules and not having to tell parents what we were up to.

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  5. Very nice post at the Guardian book blog. I can't recall reading much about flat sharing, and have no experience with it myself. It seems there was flat sharing in Green for Danger by Christianna Brand, but I do not remember the particulars.

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    1. Oh yes Tracy, Green for Danger is a great one - I love that book, and am surprised I didn't remember it for the blog....

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