LOOKING AT WHAT GOES ON UNDER THE CLOTHES
[section set in 1948]
In seven years, she had become the most sophisticated woman Frank had ever known, and he was a little intimidated; even the women he’d dated in Washington, including Judy, were frumpy by comparison. But she did it so naturally and quickly that he was fascinated rather than put off by it.
Girdle, stockings, slip, blouse, skirt, jacket, hat, hairpins, makeup, heels, coat, corsage, gloves: she passed through the process automatically, usually talking, and then she was ready to go, and off they went. This led him to believe that she would pass through the complementary removal process as easily, though she hadn’t done that yet with him. It was amusing to think about, and exciting too…
observations: Frank is the eldest of the next generation in this family saga – see this entry for more about the book and the unusual setup of one chapter for every year between 1920 and 1953. He has just met up with a girlfriend from before the war: when they announce they are to be married, his mother Rosanna ‘seemed more suspicious than any of the other parents’ – the reader knows why, though Frank doesn’t.
Frank – a sniper during WW2, his adventures described in some detail – has the most interesting post-war life of any of the family, and is the only character who seems completely unfamiliar, he is totally unlike the normal range of characters in books, which is a rare achievement, the reader doesn’t often think that.
Enough people leave Iowa to add interest in these years – as Rosanna thinks, ‘At first you thought of people like Eloise and Frank and Lillian as runaways, and then, after a bit, you knew they were really scouts.’ Frank has a job going through papers recovered from Germany after Hitler’s downfall – something that must have happened, but I’m sure hasn’t occurred to most of us. He is also (very unexpectedly) lured into a nifty bit of counter-espionage by his brother-in-law, Lillian’s husband. Things are really perking up in the plot.
Smiley is very good at describing clothes, and a world where in the 30s and 40s ‘Mama and Granny Elizabeth had sewn Lilian just the outfits she wanted [for high school], ones she’d seen in a magazine’, and there is some discussion of what bolts of material are available at the general store.
Later an upandcoming acquaintance has a wife in a ‘mouton’ coat – apparently a 1950s phrase for sheepskin cut and dyed to resemble beaver fur or sealskin.
This mouton coat is a lot more showy, designed to look like a more exotic animal.
The top picture is from the Clover vintage tumblr.