[The Marlow family is preparing to go to their neighbours’ rather posh post-Xmas party]
It suddenly occurred to Mrs Marlow that if they were going to the Merricks’ Twelfth Night party they’d better make sure everyone had something to wear. As usual, everyone was sure last year’s dress would do; and equally as usual, once they went upstairs and began trying them on everyone could see they wouldn’t do at all…
It was simply a question of deciding whose dress could best be handed on to which younger sister. Thus Ann became possessed of Karen’s last year’s yellow taffeta; Lawrie inherited Ann’s blue silk, once Rowan’s, which was, unexpectedly, too short for Ginty, but could easily be turned up and taken in for Lawrie; and Nicola, to her dismay, found herself trying on Ginty’s white net with frills, once Karen’s and later Ann’s, which fitted so well that protests were pointless. Eying herself disgustedly in the cheval mirror, Nicola came to the grim conclusion that whatever sort of face she had, it wasn’t a white net with frills one.
observations: The section on the Twelfth Night party and dance in this YA book could alone provide a week’s worth of entries – there are more dresses to find in this scene, a dress that is going to be made over (and Nicola wondering glumly if she is or is not the only one looking terrible) and later the introduction of something called The Bridesmaid’s Horror – ‘a tradition had grown up concerning its utter ghastliness and complete unwearability’ – and then the surprise outcome regarding the madeover dress. And in another book in the same series, Run Away Home, the Twelfth Night party will happen again, with more clothes panics of a different kind.
There is one important question: Lawrie and Nicola are identical twins, so it is not clear why the two dresses have to be divided up the way they are, why cannot Lawrie wear white net with frills and Nicola the blue silk?
You might think from the above that the series of ten books about this family, which roughly divide between school activities and home adventures, is obsessed with clothes, and this is far from the case – they feature, they are important to the girls of the family, but there are many other interests. Peter’s Room follows the group of teenagers as they play fantasy games in a cold snowy landscape, and this is matched with research into the similar games of the Bronte siblings at Haworth parsonage in the first half of the 19th century. And two of the sisters have competing friendships with Patrick Merrick – one of the hosts of the party – a situation that will not be resolved until the second Twelfth Night party a year later, when a cream silk dress comes into play. But in between there will be much upset, stolen phonecalls and trouble at school. It is all much much better than this makes it sounds. In two earlier entries – here and here - I tried to explain the attraction of the books, which have a small fanatical group of followers.
The young women in the photo are going to a teenage dance party in Canada in 1959 – picture from the Desoronto Archives.