Tuesday, 4 April 2017

Tuesday Night Club: A is for Anything….



The Tuesday Night Bloggers are a group of crime fiction fans who choose a different topic each month, then write a weekly post on it. We took March off, and now we are BACK. The theme is 'A is for April, A is for Anything'. We can take the A any way we want to. So look out for some varied blogposts.



A for April logo
And of course please join in if you would like to – one-offs and casuals always welcome.

This month I am collecting the links, so just let me know (in the comments below or on Facebook) if you have anything to add.


KATE AT CROSS-EXAMINING CRIME looked at Antiques and Murder, with the book Murder is a Collector's Item by Elizabeth Dean.

BRAD FRIEDMAN OVER AT AH SWEET MYSTERY chose (unsurprisingly) Actors and Agatha as his topic - he brings us some Acerbic Analysis.



As ever, Bev at My Reader’s Block did the splendid logo.

For my first post, I have chosen to look at what turned out to be one of Patricia Wentworth’s best books, with a nice big A at the beginning of the title.




Anna, Where Are You? by Patricia Wentworth



published 1951
Anna Where Are You  4


'And Mr Craddock?’

‘An eye like Jove to threaten and command. Very Jovian altogether. A brow and a good deal of hair. Looks like a tall man till he stands up. Quite a presence. The serious crank with Views and a belted blouse.

[Later] Mr Craddock appeared, very Olympian in a belted blouse of white wool. In the dusk of the passage this was as much as could be seen, but as the children vanished with loud quacking noises and he ushered her into the room from which he had emerged, Miss Silver perceived that his costume was completed by corduroy trousers of a rich shade of crimson, and that the blouse itself was a work of art embroidered with a number of figures which she presently discerned to be the signs of the Zodiac.


 
Anna Where Are You 2Anna Where Are You 3


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Miss Elaine, small and thin in a pea green smock, and Miss Gwyneth, larger and inclined to billow in a sacklike garment of peacock-blue, were both all that was welcoming and kind…They fluttered a good deal, assisted by a flowing of scarves and a jingle of beads. With her pea-green smock Miss Elaine wore a necklet of blue and silver beads from Venice and a long string of Chinese amber, whilst Miss Gwyneth’s peacock curves supported a short row of cornelians and two longer strings, one of pink coral and the other filagree silver and amethyst.
 

Anna Where Are You
 


commentary: A couple of people recommended this one to me, including trustworthy Lucy Fisher – so I was not surprised to find that this is the best Miss Silver book I have read. It has an interest and unexpectedness, a drive, not always to be found in this series: a most enjoyable read.

Anna has gone missing - disappeared in between jobs as a companion or governess. Her only friend, Thomasina, is anxious to find her, and ends up consulting Miss Silver. It is hard to explain why Miss S’s next move is to go and work as a Mother’s Help (£2 a week, all found) for a miserable family in a vaguely artistic Colony: but the reader does not complain, because this undercover work is quite splendid, a fascinating departure.

(And along the way, we find out an intriguing employment detail about companions: ‘you would be legally obliged to pass on the reference you had with her if she did not stay with you for longer than a month.’)

This is far from the usual Silver set up of reduced gentry and nouveau riche in country manors: everyone lives in great discomfort, and they drink herbal tea, and the children are not being disciplined, so we know something is badly wrong. One character refuses to let another kiss her children goodnight, so we’re prepared for the worst about him

Wentworth makes much of the weird clothes, and also of the even weirder food they all eat – savoury cake tasting of sage, and horrible sandwiches.

There is a mysterious character, and references to Enoch Arden – strangely, just as in Agatha Christie’s Taken at The Flood a couple of years earlier. His name is Robinson, despite the fact that there are other characters called Robinson in Miss Silver’s life, a carelessness that I find annoying (I complained when she did the same in The Benevent Treasure.)

Miss Silver coughs 19 times in this book – we’re keeping something of a count.

She is firm on the subject of a fancywork shop that features in the plot:
‘Fancywork shops are often run in quite an easy going way. It is considered a refined occupation by those who have had no business training.’
She also ends up going to a roadhouse with her policeman friend Frank – another great CiB favourite subject, but really the louche atmosphere, low lighting and discreet corners of the place seem all wrong for Miss Silver, even if she is undercover.

This is a sharp and at times funny book – I liked this:
Mr Craddock found Miss Silver regarding him in a manner so little suggestive of admiration as to cause him annoyance.
--although she is a little too predictable on the subjects of child-raising, socialism and healthy eating.

The clothes are tremendous fun, and quite different from the usual nice summer dresses and changing-for-evenings in the Wentworth oeuvre. I am fascinated by the ‘belted blouses’ and did considerable research: the phrase (in menswear) applies to peasant smocks, the overalls worn by French railway porters in the first half of the 20th century, or parts of US Air Force uniform. They turn up in Charlotte Bronte’s Villette, and in Dickens – always worn by continentals. The pictures are the best I can do, though sadly no signs of the Zodiac.

The artsy sisters resemble the women in Agatha Christie’s Dumb Witness (a 1937 book) – I direct interested readers to the blogpost here for the spiritualism, the vegetarianism, and Poirot’s somewhat unexpected comments: all would apply equally to the sisters here. 

There is some looking into a crystal ball, if not actually my great favourite, a séance.

And one of the helpful locals has a nice way of describing the changes in clothing and appearance that he has seen in his time:
When he was younger he would have known just how to place the lady, but now of course there was no telling – she might be anyone. You couldn’t be sure that your own nieces and cousins wouldn’t turn up looking as if the less said about them the better.
There is also a mysterious red hat – as Miss S says
From the first I have thought a good deal about that red hat.
This one is from 1921, so 30 years earlier, but it seemed the right kind of hat for drawing attention while hiding the face…

Anna Where Are You 5
From NYPL.


So all round, Anna was a great start to a month of As...

Plenty more Patricia Wentworth on the blog – click on the label below. The children were very reminiscent of those turning up in the Jane Duncan books from time to time, and there was some discussion of the role and misery of companions and governesses, bringing Miss Pettigrew to mind.

The woman in the smock has the look of an arty sister – the picture is of artist Bertha Wegmann from the Royal Library of Denmark.

The worker in a smock is an illustration for 15th century peasants from the NYPL.
Folkwear ethnic patterns are from a much later date, but  along the right lines.





























27 comments:

  1. What a great description of that family, Moira, and of the whole health thing. I'm glad you mentioned Christie's Dumb Witness, as I was thinking of the Tripp sisters and wondering if these sisters were like them. I like the little touches of wit in this one, and the 'undercover operation' is a nice touch, too.

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    1. Yes, I really enjoyed the look at another way of life, but one that was a little familiar from other books. This one really had something to offer.

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  2. Cough, cough...the term 'blouse' is used in the US military to refer to the service uniform jacket in all branches, not only the USAF. It is also, somewhat confusingly, used to describe the neat, symmetrical tucks that are supposed to occur in the back of the camouflage utility top when wearing it with a duty belt (ah, the memory of those desperate appeals to "Blouse me, candidate!" before passing under the gimlet eye of the Sergeant Instructor.)

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    1. Thank you! I kept finding references to it, but couldn't get a full explanation, so it's as well we have an expert to hand. Is it similar to 'battledress', which is how I would picture it in the UK? And no-one thinks it odd that it's called a blouse - in England that would be quite the girly term.

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    2. Battle dress is the fighting uniform, known in the US as BDUs (US Army), cammies (USMC), camo (US Navy) and fatigues (USAF). I *think.* I've been retires since 2000 so will swear only to the USMC nickname.

      The blouse is what is referred to (incorrectly, harrumph) in the image at this link as a "coat."

      http://www.uniforms-4u.com/p-usmc-alpha-service-coat-3243.aspx

      The service alpha uniform consists of the blouse, shirt, tie, trousers or skirt.

      The service bravo uniform consists of the shirt, tie, trousers or skirt.

      The service charlie uniform consists of a short-sleeve shirt, no tie, and the trousers or skirt.

      Clear as mud, right?

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    3. Most helpful, and I feel I could join up tomorrow and know what to wear. (If I wasn't ineligible by way of nationality of course). I will never look at the word blouse in the same way.

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    4. To make it even more confusing, each branch of the US military has different regulations for women personnel in re: jewelry, hairstyles, footwear and even when one may carry a handbag.

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    5. Wow. I had no idea it was so complicated, but also clear why I would not have been a success in the armed forces.

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  3. This is not about the books to me; it's about that wonderful red hat. Love it. Are there any left like that one?

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    1. I know! I loved it, we need to find two: one for you and one for me.

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    2. I'm sure you're neither of you quite at the wearing purple stage.... unless you want to, of course!

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    3. I've been wearing red hats all my life, for as many occasions as I can find...

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  4. Ha! Looking forward to Murder is a Collector's Item - partly because I have a feeling I know exactly which passage you'll use for the clothes-in-books element, so I have a little bet with myself. (Of course, I bet you'll spot it too, and avoid it on purpose...)

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    1. Now there's an intriguing challenge! I can see I really am going to have to pick it up soon...

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  5. Oh, I love Miss Pettigrew! Both the movie and the book, although the movie went with a somewhat unrealistic happy ending.

    Are cornelians carnelians? They would fit with the coral.

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    1. Miss Pettigrew is one of my all-time favourite comfort reads - a complete fairy-tale and none the worse for that.
      I hadn't caught that about the cornelians - I checked back, and it's definitely cornelians in my version of the book, and it turns out they are two variant versions for the same thing! We live and learn...

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  6. This sounds like one I should put on my list. I am pretty sure I don't have it. Sounds a bit different, although since it has been so long since I read any of them, I won't notice.

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    1. I'd not heard of it till recently, but it really is one of her best.

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  7. A is for apathetic - not one for me I'm afraid. Is the frock a Laura Ashley, I'm sure my sister had one just like it!

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    1. I think it's a Laura Ashely ripoff - the world of dainty floral dresses is cutthroat you know.

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  8. Susanna Tayler6 April 2017 at 18:10

    The arty smock-wearer is quite a common mid-century stereotype, isn't it? There's the bit in Cold Comfort Farm where Elfine admits to admiring Miss Ashford the tea-shop owner:
    "She had a smock -"
    "Embroidered with hollyhocks," said Flora, resignedly. "And I'll bet she wore her hair in shells round her ears and a pendant made of hammered silver with a bit of blue enamel in the middle. And did she try to grow herbs?"
    "How did you know?"

    Though I think the pendant sounds quite nice, actually.

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    1. Me, too! I love artsy crafsty stuff.

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    2. Oh Cold Comfort Farm is wonderful. And now I'm thinking of making a list of mid-century smock-wearers and arts and craftsy types.

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  9. There's a mention in a Christie short story:

    "Rathole is... too picturesque perhaps. There is rather too much of the atmosphere of 'Ye Olde Cornish Tea House' about it. It has shops with bobbed-headed girls in smocks doing hand-illuminated mottoes on parchment."

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    1. Is it the one about the pavement and the bathing suit, the predecessor to Evil Under the Sun? She is always funny about the genteel people on the edges, with strange beliefs..

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  10. I take this as a reminder to rewatch "Cold Comfort Farm."

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