The Little Shadows by Marina Endicott

published 2011

Clover and Aurora moved through a tricky series of arabesques while Bella danced off to get into her bumble-bee wings; they wafted into the ether of spring, the music metamorphosed, and Bella came clumping on in her bee costume: a comedy no matter how you tweaked the wings.
‘Be my little baby bumble bee(Buzz around, buzz around, keep a-buzzin’ ’round) …’

Nothing fazes Bella, Clover thought, watching from the darkness. Bella’s plump bosom filled up the stripey dress so nicely. Clover’s own chest was two separate little teacups, but Bella had turned out almost upholstered, her rounded robin’s front very appealing.
‘Let me spend the happy hours

Roving with you ’mongst the flow’rs

And when we get where no one else can see

(Cuddle up, cuddle up, cuddle up) …’

There she went, flirting with the men in the first row of the balcony. Every few steps she’d hop-sidle, in sweet imitation of a bee landing on a flower clump. Mama had tried to infuse this dance with a bit more grace but had thrown up her hands in the end and told Bella to dance it her own way.

observations: We keep visiting this book, but that’s OK – it’s just because it’s SO GOOD. It seemed time to look more at what they wear on stage, and then we had this great picture to hand - though it seems likely Bella's costume was a bit more racy.

The Belle Auroras also dress up as butterflies, and there is nearly a very nasty accident with their wings.

Choosing the costumes and working up their acts are described in great detail in the book, and makes for some of the most fascinating reading. Is the song too sentimental? Is the costume smart enough? Do the items follow on properly? How did that song go down? They mock another act:
‘Listen: The Ioleen Sisters, twin Amazons from Australia with a double set of accomplishments, slack-wire walking and sharp-shooting. Why those two skills? For crossing a river as an alligator attacks?’

Their futures are always in their minds. Aurora lives for a time a most respectable life – a friendly lady says
‘Being as you are, in a way, semi-professional,’ she said. Aurora understood that to be a form of compliment, as one might say semi-professional prostitutes

--would the three sisters give up the joys of the stage for a more ordinary life? They think about the famous/notorious Evelyn Nesbit  - who gave us one of our favourite ever blog images:

‘Maybe not the happiest analogy, Clover thought’, as Nesbit’s jealous husband shot her lover.

Although the Belle Auroras are anxious not to end up at the lower reaches of vaudeville – burlesque – they also don’t have any time for people who don’t respect their careers. They are spirited independent women, a pleasure to read about.

Links on the blog: More from this book, and  Angela Carter's Wise Children is a similarly fascinating look at women on stage.

The costume picture (actually a hornet) came from Wikimedia Commons, and was first published in a fancy dress book


  1. Moira - No harm at all in revisiting a book if it's great. And I just adore that bee costume! And now I've got all sorts of mental pictures having to do with wings... It sounds like there's a lot of wit in this book, too.

    1. Thanks Margot! It is a very funny clever book. The picture is one of my favourites, I can just stare and stare at it....

  2. One for you, not one for me....

  3. The loving attention paid to fabrics, draping, colors, construction of the clothing in this book is wonderful. We don't think about how characteristic all that is to a given era. I love this book.

    1. oh me too, it's fabulous. Should be better-known.

  4. I have my lovely copy of the book, and I will definitely read it in 2014. Early 2014, I hope, but it is a long one. In addition to the fact that it is set in Canada, there is the vaudeville aspect. Very interesting.

    1. It's a long read, but such an enjoyable one - I do hope you will like it.

  5. It is a long book but it's the sort of long book that when you get to the end you will want to start again at the beginning because (it turns out) the book was not nearly long enough, and you are sad to leave it.


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