the books: My Friends the Mrs Millers
My Friends from Cairnton
both by Jane Duncan
[It is the 1920s. the young heroine – who is about 18 in this passage – has just met an old schoolmate who is about to get married]
I was at an age when I was somewhat confused about weddings and matrimony in general. It is difficult at this distance of time to formulate this confusion of mine and this distrust that was in me of the pageantry of the bride with her white lilies, surrounded by a bevy of bridesmaids with their red roses which were a symbol in my mind of ‘roses, roses all the way’, a symbol which my mind, even out of its very limited experience, rejected as completely false….
Even my hard-headed grandmother and my sensible aunt at Reachfar always greeted the news of an engagement with a dewy-eyed pleasure that sat strangely upon them, and seemed to set great store by the form and ceremony of the occasion, down to the last detail of the trimming the bride’s going-away hat…
It seemed to me grossly unimportant if, at the initial ceremony, the bride carried sweet peas or thistles or whether her honeymoon nightdress was of crepe-de-chine or sackcloth.
observations: Sometimes I think that I am the only person to have read a Jane Duncan book in 30 years, but if there are more of us, then surely we would all be saying in unison: ‘well she would say that, wouldn’t she?’ Heroine (and, one assumes, Jane Duncan’s alter ego/Mary Sue) Janet Sandison – who features in 19 books about her not wildly exciting life – has a very smug happy partnership with Twice Alexander, and is commonly known as Mrs Alexander, but she is no such thing. She lives in sin, unable to marry because of Twice’s RC starter wife who refuses to divorce him. As ever, the infuriating Janet thinks she is more moral than anyone else because of this. She is forever judging others, and taking a high virtuous line about this and that, and knowing for sure that her rules of living are the only correct ones, but she seems very light-hearted about the living in sin, for her era – both Jane and Janet were born in 1910. (It is a tribute to Duncan’s larger-than-life character that I seem to be ending up criticizing her for having unmarried sex, something I would never normally do). But I think this excerpt shows that subconsciously Janet does want to be married –she is exemplifying sour grapes in the true sense of the metaphor.
CiB is covering two of the books this time – they aren’t bad, both featuring a lot about life on the (fictional) West Indies island of St Jago in the 1950s, the usual of-its-time farrago about race relations, and flashbacks to idyllic Reachfar, and not-so-nice Cairnton, both in Scotland, places she lived in her youth.
There is a description of another young woman in the Scotland of the 1920s:
‘You know how bonnie she is and she’s got so much personality - ’ In the 1920s ‘personality’ meant ‘sexual attraction’ in most vocabularies, ‘ – I mean, she’s got what they call IT.’That has changed over the years – ‘she’s got a lovely personality’ in my day was the answer to ‘is she pretty?’ and meant ‘no she isn’t’. The question of sex appeal and IT was a great trope of Agatha Christie’s (she liked the idea of having a ‘come hither’ look) and also turns up in Nancy Mitford.
We have had some lovely weddings brides and dresses on the blog (being superficial, like everyone else except for Janet) – see the labels below – but none for a while. This picture, from the National Library of Ireland, is a 1928 wedding, complete with lilies and bridesmaids and roses. It was held at Lismore Castle, one of the homes of the Dukes of Devonshire.