Dress Down Sunday: The Rising Tide by Molly Keane

published 1937, under pseudonym MJ Farrell


Rising Tide 2nd entry

[Simon and Susan are brother and sister: they are planning a fancy-dress event for his coming of age]

Simon’s idea (for it had come to be called Simon’s), had caught on.
—— A Period Party. ’95 to ’07. Come as yourselves, your Uncles or your Aunts. Dancing 10.30——
The countryside ransacked their cupboards, delved in domed boxes, fought out bitter contests for the first services of the Little Women Round the Corners. They were all coming to the party at Garonlea. Simon’s party.
“I would like to come to Simon’s party in some very high corsets, to make me some bosoms, and a really tricky pair of white nainsook knickers run with black ribbon and frilled at the knees. Pads for my hair, and black silk stockings. I know I’d have the success of my life.”

“I think it would be very unfunny, Sue,” Simon said.

“Well, I won’t, Simon. But I could have called myself a postcard from Paris. And do you remember the first bicyclists, Aunt Enid?”

“No, I don’t,” said Enid, sharply. Why should it appear grotesque to any one— that time of youth? These clothes that had looked so right in their own romantic period! All there seemed to say in their defence now was that they were not unlike the clothes of to-day. You could not say, “We looked lovely in those clothes. We had bosoms which attracted the gentlemen and beliefs to which we clung, we were not rude and unhappy and flat-breasted like our children.” Not unhappy? The denial too was true to type and period.

observations: More Irish influences, after my recent holiday: Molly Keane is the queen of the decaying Anglo-Irish ascendancy, living out their lives in their big houses, knowing life is going to change. See first entry for more details of the plot. The dates for the party costumes are, obviously, 1895-1907.

Sue does not wear what she describes above for the party, and nor does she wear this:
Sue [picked] up a gold tissue bodice veiled and ruched and frilled by an apricot and diaphanous cloud. “I’ll have this, I think. Or shall I? Oh, my nainsook drawers! I suppose Simon wouldn’t be very pleased if I wore them. But I could, underneath. A nice bit of atmosphere. I’ll have these anyhow.”
(Nainsook, apparently is a ‘soft light white cotton fabric’, much used for underwear.)

In the end she wears a hideous-sounding brown silk dress with a matching jacket, huge padded shoulders and a bustle. All the vintage clothing at the ball is deeply significant, as is Cynthia’s choice of dress – she looks like a ‘very clean black fish.’ (She is Sue and Simon’s mother.)

There is also the question of Cynthia’s sister-in-law’s clothes:
Diana came in then in a spruce little dinner-jacket. Her short hair brushed and pomaded and charmingly grey at the temples. Her finger-nails trimmed squarely. A blue lapis signet-ring. Simon helped her to dress like that. Although he was at Cambridge now, he scarcely realised the implications. In 1922 a great many people did not.
-- which I assume means she was lesbian.

The question of killing yourself by drinking hat paint comes up – this is something we looked at on the blog a while back, in relation to Agatha Christie’s Murder is Easy.

The picture really is a naughty French postcard of the correct era. It’s one of a series - I used a similar one in the entry on this book.


  1. Oooh, hat paint comes up in Christie's Cards on the Table, too, Moira. Hmmmm.... It's interesting how fancy-dress choices can reveal so much about the wearers. I hadn't thought of that, but it's quite true. And I like the character portraits I'm getting just from reading the dialogue.

    1. I love it that you are as interested in hat paint as I am Margot! One of these days the UK/US police are going to be suspicious of the technical poison discussions and are going to start wondering what we are up to. I wish you'd write one of your stories and include hat paint... either a modern or an old-time setting....

    2. Bwahahahaha ;-) - If I do, you'll be an accessory...just sayin'

  2. Replies
    1. In fact even if you were going to try Molly Keane, I wouldn't put this one first...

  3. I do love that image. And it looked familiar. I am glad, however, that you are reading this for me.

    1. Yes, that's probably about right Tracy. It was just the right book for me because I had been visiting Ireland, and seen houses like the one the characters lived in: it was the book for the moment.


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