Jasper offered her an opal necklace; Rose a gold necklace. Which looked best against her black dress? Which did indeed, said Mrs. Ramsay absent-mindedly, looking at her neck and shoulders (but avoiding her face) in the glass. And then, while the children rummaged among her things, she looked out of the window…
She let them take their time to choose: she let Rose, particularly, take up this and then that, and hold her jewels against the black dress, for this little ceremony of choosing jewels, which was gone through every night, was what Rose liked best, she knew. She had some hidden reason of her own for attaching great importance to this choosing what her mother was to wear. What was the reason, Mrs. Ramsay wondered, standing still to let her clasp the necklace she had chosen, divining, through her own past, some deep, some buried, some quite speechless feeling that one had for one’s mother at Rose’s age. Like all feelings felt for oneself, Mrs. Ramsay thought, it made one sad. It was so inadequate, what one could give in return; and what Rose felt was quite out of proportion to anything she actually was. And Rose would grow up; and Rose would suffer, she supposed, with these deep feelings, and she said she was ready now, and they would go down, and Jasper, because he was the gentleman, should give her his arm, and Rose, as she was the lady, should carry her handkerchief (she gave her the handkerchief), and what else? oh, yes, it might be cold: a shawl. Choose me a shawl, she said, for that would please Rose, who was bound to suffer so.
observations: Virginia Woolf – such a great writer , such a good feminist, such a favourite on the blog with her early discussion of the business of Clothes in Books in Orlando.
And To the Lighthouse – a wonderful book, a long-time favourite. And it is, it still is. But investigating the question of the boeuf en daube for a recent Guardian books blog piece, I found much of concern among the household arrangements.
For a start, Woolf has obviously never cooked a boeuf en daube, and neither has Mrs Ramsay, heroine of the book. They both appear to believe that the dish has knife-edge timing, and can burn, and that the bay-leaf ‘needs to be done to a turn’ – all of which is nonsense. The dish sounds delicious (Woolf has plainly eaten it, and a good one at that), and Mrs R says complacently - as she dishes it out like the dining-room queen she is, finding a specially tender piece for Mr Bankes - that it is her grandmother’s recipe.
But it has been cooked by someone called Mildred, and it is her masterpiece. While the dish is being finished off, Mrs Ramsay has spent the time upstairs putting on her black dress and letting the children choose her accessories.
There’ll be more about domestic matters chez Ramsay, and more about Mildred, later in the week.
And go to Elizabeth David to find out how to make a boeuf en daube.
Virginia Woolf is also on the blog here.
The picture is a fashion illustration for the French designer Madeleine Cheruit.