Sunday, 26 April 2015

Dress Down Sunday: Miss Silver’s Knickers


the book: Through the Wall by Patricia Wentworth

published 1950


LOOKING AT WHAT GOES ON UNDER THE CLOTHES



Through the Wall 2




Miss Silver stayed for an hour, and had managed to draw Mrs Brand into a slight show of interest over a pattern for long-sleeved vests and the address of a shop where the wool suitable for making them could be bought. It transpired that Florence had always worn wool next to the skin, and had now arrived at measurements which made it practically impossible for her to procure the necessary underwear….

[Everyone in the household has to be strip-searched in case they have blood-stained clothes.]

Miss Silver immediately offered herself as the first subject for search…Mrs Larkin, being passionately addicted to crochet, became quite warm in her admiration of the edging which decorated Miss Silver’s high-necked spencer and serviceable flannelette knickers, which had three rows on each leg, each row being a little wider than the last. On being informed that the design was original she was emboldened to ask for the pattern, which Miss Silver promised to write down for her. After which they parted on very friendly terms…

[The search continues] The cook Eliza gave Mrs Larkin and even Miss Silver the surprise of their lives when the removal of her black afternoon dress displayed pink silk cam-knickers with French legs. Nothing more compromising than this came to light.


 
Through the Wall 4Through the WAll



observations: This is a stunner indeed. Vicki/Skiourophile came up with the news in a recent comment:
I've just read about some great knickers in Patricia Wentworth's Through the Wall, including Miss Silver's own knickers; and a bit about having to knit one's own underthings as too fat for shop ones. The mystery is a bit ho-hum, but there's a great cat.
I had to download the book even before answering Vicki, AND then had to swat away some cheeky comments from Col of Col’s Criminal Library.

But then I had the story in all its glory.

 
Through the Wall 3


I have recently been forced to reconsider Miss Silver after seeing this fascinating article by blogfriend Noah Stewart – anyone interested in crime fiction should read it. He made me determined to look at her tolerantly, and indeed I liked the first half of Through the Wall more than any of Wentworth’s that I’d read before. It starts with an uncle spying on his possible legatees, a ridiculous will, and a very strange household, thrown together solely, apparently, with the purpose of creating an impossible situation, an exciting bequest possibility, plenty of suspects, locked doors and a split house (rather like the incomprehensible one that turned up in Stella Gibbons' Starlight earlier this month on the blog). Kudos to Patricia Wentworth.

In the middle of all this there is a massive train crash: this serves no real purpose and has no lasting effects except to introduce two attractive young people to each other. In fact they don’t see each other (they are trapped in pitch black) so you think there is going to be some impersonation, or appearance issue, but no, not at all, literally nothing is made of this.

The most nervous beginner at creative writing class could have thought up a better way for them to meet.

SLIGHT SPOILERS

So you settle in to enjoy this, but sadly it goes rather downhill in the second half. There is one obvious question about the murder victim and her brightly-coloured scarf: as no-one mentions it, you know it’s going to be part of the solution. And then – well there just aren’t that many people in the frame, and by the time you’ve knocked out the dead, the young lovers, and the general nice people (this is not a spoiler: there are two worthless young men, but it’s obvious that one is salvageable and the other isn’t) there aren’t going to be any great surprises in the revelation of the murderer.

But it was worth it for the knitted knickers, and for the very discomfiting image of Miss Silver being searched. (You can’t see that happening to Miss Marple. Mrs Bradley wouldn’t turn a hair, I imagine.)

As ever, Wentworth does a great job of describing everyone’s clothes throughout. She also uses a phrase which you don’t come across often:
he wouldn’t say Ina didn’t pay for dressing, every woman did
‘Pay for dressing’ seems to mean something like ‘looks good in nice clothes’ or ‘gets a good return on clothes in terms of appearance’. Perhaps (gives) pay(back) for dressing. Lord Peter Wimsey’s mother says about Harriet Vane that she ‘would pay for really inspired dressing’ (and plainly doesn’t mean ‘she has a lot of money for good clothes’). It’s in a Philippa Gregory novel too:
“You do pay dressing,” Jenny said.
And Angela Brazil from 1922:
‘If you haven’t thought about your clothes before it’s time you did. My dear, you’ll pay dressing.’
I haven’t really got a handle on this expression (I don’t think I’m making this up), and am hoping that maybe Lucy Fisher can help me out – I feel she might know the phrase?
And thanks again to Vicki and Noah.

There was a similar search of the females - Alleyn looks as though he has his 'brain in his fingertips' and there is discussion of who wears stays - in this Ngaio Marsh book on the blog. 

To find more Miss Silver on the blog click on the labels below.





















27 comments:

  1. I love this book, and the underwear, and really enjoyed your discussion of it - thanks.

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    1. Thanks for visiting and commenting, Cass, and glad you liked it. I enjoyed the book (with reservations) and really enjoyed finding pictures to go with the entry.

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  2. Thank you! (And that link to Noah's blog is fascinating)

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    1. The thanks are entirely due from me to you! And yes, Noah nails it doesn't he? See what he says below...

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  3. I am goggling at the crocheted bra & trying to imagine the pattern. In the Miss Silvers I have read so far, she's only ever making baby vests! But that's knitting too.

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    1. The crocheted bra is quite the stunner isn't it? Yes, she really branches out in this book, normally it's just the standard discussion on making the baby clothes larger than they need just now...

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  4. That is definitely a vivid picture of Miss Silver being searched, Moira! I actually like Miss Silver as a character, although I do know what you mean about the plot of this novel. And I will be really interested if you find out what 'pay for dressing' means. I've heard it before, too, but not really 'gotten' it.

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    1. The old dear is pulling me in - I used to think of her as much inferior to other detectives, and I have read fewer Wentworth books than most of the standard authors. But now I am finding myself working my way through them....

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  5. Thanks for your very nice comments! I have learned a lot from Miss Silver ... I'm one of those people who likes to find out exactly what is meant when an author uses a word or phrase, and Wentworth is always coming up with things for me to investigate. For instance, Eliza the cook's cami-knickers with "French legs". I can imagine what that means -- the onlookers appear to feel that's a bit more racy and upper-class than they were expecting from a stout cook -- but my inquiring mind wants to know exactly what's meant. (And what exactly is a "spencer"?)
    I agree with Vicki that this particular volume is a bit ho-hum, and I agree with you that the set-up is implausible. And the identity of the murder wasn't really a surprise to me, although with Wentworth it frequently is.
    As regards your phrase: I'm sure I've encountered it before, and I think your translation of "gets a good return on clothes in terms of appearance" is very accurate.

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    1. I really liked your article Noah, as I hope I made clear! Yes, unknown phrases niggle away at me: at least it's easier to check things out now with our computers. I think French legs means not elasticated, loose and perhaps trimmed with lace (but prepared to be told I'm wrong!). A spencer is a vest I believe... there's a button-up one in one of the pics above. I think this is surprisingly sexy for a cook, is the implication. I'm sure Ms Wentworth would be delighted that we're all analysing this so closely!

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  6. Moira, you took the word right out of my pen, so to speak. I found the quoted passage stunning and didn't know this sort of thing was written about even in mid-20th century. The description is really good.

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    1. I found it all fascinating, I was so grateful to Vicki for pointing it out, and I'm glad the comments prove that everyone else was equally intrigued by this part of the book...

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  7. Very nice post and I enjoyed the information on knitting and crocheted items. Thanks for pointing out the article at Noah's blog which I had missed. It is so hard to keep up with everything.

    I have said before ... and maybe here... that I read lots of Miss Silver books years ago and I did find them repetitious after reading several in a row. To me, that only makes them undesirable if I read a lot at a time, but if I read them in small doses, it isn't a problem. I haven't read any in a while and look forward to discovering how Wentworth's writing strikes me now.

    I did skip the "slight spoiler" section even though who knows if I will ever get to this particular book.

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    1. Yes it is hard to keep up - but I was so glad I read Noah's piece, and am now glad I managed to point it out to you. And yes, I think you don't want to read too many of these in a row, but they're enjoyable when you come to them after a gap.

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  8. Something like "it would pay you to dress well"? Undertones of marrying for money probably not intended? Or "you would be worth dressing well"?

    I haven't met it before, and didn't notice the Duchess's remark.

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    1. Well if you don't know it I know it MUST be obscure! It struck me when I first read Busman's Honeymoon: I was in a closely analytical mood, and I used to worrit over phrases in my favourite books that I didn't understand. I would have been SOOO happy to have had Google in those days (even though it didn't help much this time) - I still occasionally come across something that sovles some half-forgotten mystery in a book I read when I was 16....

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  9. But I do know what a spencer is and wore one at school - a long-sleeved, front-buttoning, waist-length woolly vest. One of my classmates wore a liberty bodice - same thing without the sleeves. It was cold.

    More here, and also info on the Witzchoura: http://www.janeausten.co.uk/cloaks-capes-pelisses-and-spencers/

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    1. Love the Witzchoura, which I had never heard of. All my Regency info comes from Georgette Heyer, but I don't remember her mentioning that one...

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  10. I have slowly got into the world of Miss Wentworth. I don't claim to have read all the Miss Silvers and I have liked some better than others most definitely, but I'm coming to find her interesting, precisely for the way she conformed to so many "cozy" archetypes (more than Christie I think). I really did rather enjoy Miss Silver Comes to Stay in particular and I liked The Watersplash too.

    I'll be dropping this one father down on the "to read" list though!

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    1. Curt, that's very much how I feel about her books. I have a category I call 'don't rush to read these books, but if I was stuck in a bed and breakfast overnight with nothing else to read, I'd be delighted to find one on the shelf and would get stuck in immediately.' I know - it's a catchy title isn't it?

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  11. Cheers for the mention, but you're right not my sort of book.

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    1. You're let off because of making me laugh about it.

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  12. I like this category, Moira. I have a similar one. And the mention of liberty bodices took me right back. It was a real misnomer. I used to wear one aged 9 or 10 and worried that I wouldn't be able to fight my way out of it when I had to change for PE. Mine didn't have buttons.

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    1. That's a strangely affecting story about your young self - you should work it into some fiction. I had a PE shirt that did button down the front - but everyone else had non-button ones, and I felt very much odd-girl-out, even though I'm sure no-one else noticed.

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  13. Funny how these things stay with you! I will bear the story idea in mind.

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  14. "To pay for dressing" conveys the sense that unlike pretty young things who can throw on any old collection of garments and look all right, the subject needs to put some care and thought into finding the styles -- tailored, lacy, fluffy, simple -- and the colors which are most becoming.

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    1. Thanks Ann - I think I have a feel for the expression without being able to explain it clearly, and you did a great job.

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