Sunday, 24 September 2017

Dress Down Sunday: The Loved and Envied by Enid Bagnold


published 1951


LOOKING AT WHAT GOES ON UNDER THE CLOTHES



Loved and Envied 1


According to the habits of the household he was sitting in Ruby’s bedroom while she dressed. Miranda was there too, and the little dog, now nine, was coiled up on the ragged silk of the old Empire chair. The maid, told to come into the room, stared at them astonished. The young master, in a dressing-gown, was in the window seat, and the young lady, looking very well, was fully dressed. But the lady… sat before her looking -glass painting her lashes with a brush. If the peasant’s yellow skin could have responded it would have reddened when Ruby turned to speak to her, for there she was in the room with a young man and wore a lace garment that hardly concealed her breasts.



Loved and Envied 2


commentary: Enid Bagnold has featured on the blog for her children’s classic, National Velvet, which I like but did not adore, and found completely unreadable when I was a child. She has a very strange style, one that keeps tripping the reader up – though this book was actually an easier read than National Velvet. I have also read a biography of Bagnold in which she came over as a truly horrible person.

The Loved and Envied was commissioned on the back of National Velvet (book, 1935, film 1945, both wildly successful) but wasn’t quite what was hoped for. It’s a novel based on the character of the celebrated beauty and socialite Lady Diana Cooper – another one who doesn’t seem half as charming to modern eyes as she was to her contemporaries. Lady DC was a great friend of two blog stalwarts: Evelyn Waugh (she is the original of Julia Stitch) and Nancy Mitford (she is the original of Lady Leone) and features endlessly in their letters. There is much from her life in the book, and also much from Bagnold’s own life.

The novel is about Ruby: a very rich and well-connected woman who lives outside Paris with her husband. She is in her 50s: is perhaps her beauty starting to fade? She has always been loved and adored, as in the book’s title, and men fell in love with her. Her relationship with her long-time husband, Gynt, is uneasy. She has failed in her relationship with her daughter Miranda. She has a circle of friends and admirers.

The book is following the story through in the 1950s - though it is sometimes very hard to remember that, the book seems set at least 20 years earlier. And although the clothes are good and interesting, would a young woman really be wearing ‘striped silk muslin, long and cloudy, a Renoir-thought of a summer girl on a beach’ in 1950? The New Look had been in place for several years by then… (Daniel, care to comment? You'll probably find me a young woman dressed in exactly that...)

As the main plot proceeds, the book repeatedly dives off into a long chapter telling the backstory of some character. This was plainly planned and a feature, but it annoyed me, and I found several of the stories dull, empty and finally irrelevant. Much of it was quite unpleasant, and no-one was very happy.

There is a lot of heavy-handed advice to the daughter from her mother as she tries to mend their relationship: advice on how to get men.
‘The way you look, Miranda, is hungry, is fatal. You must have a secret life! Then they want to share it; then they want to rob you of it. Smile – as though you had a lover already! Pride. It makes them envious to see you proud!’
Miranda also has a makeover session with a charming gay dress designer, who also gives her advice on men:
‘Keep quiet. Look right: keep quiet. Look like a packet of mystery done up for a birthday and don’t spoil it by being silly.’
And then is pushed into a very odd plot turn. Usually I love makeover scenes – poor plain Miranda is having her life changed – but this one rather left me cold. As did the whole book.

I liked the fact that it was about older people and their lives loves and passions – that is still unusual, although I didn’t take to being told that 53 was absolutely ancient. But it was snobbish, and tiresome, and jumped around too much for me.

However, I may be unfair and uncharitable – for a quite different view go to visit Barb over at Leaves and Pages - she really liked this book, and I read it on her recommendation. And the book contains many features that I often enjoy, perhaps it caught me on an off day….

Misia at her dressing table - Felix Valotton from Google Art Project.

A Young Woman Undressing in an Interior by Delphin Enjolras – from the Athenaeum site.


















13 comments:

  1. Hmmm....Just from the bits you shared, Moira, I'm not sure I'd really care much for that family. You are right, though, that it's nice to see that the book features see people who aren't - erm - in their twenties.

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    1. Yes indeed - it's nice to see the passions and interests of older people taken seriously. But I think this is one of the books that I reckon I've read so other people don't have to!

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  2. Is she actually wearing striped silk muslin on a beach? That sounds extremely impractical if so - surely a nice washable cotton would be better.

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    1. E-xactly. A proper English daughter would be in a slightly faded print, something she was using up while it still had some wear in it...

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  3. It's always intriguing when a book garners such opposite reactions; though your review certainly seem to suggest that this one may be too full of unlikable people to enjoy.
    Is it too much to ask that poor, plain Miranda ends up telling her mother where to place her advice and finds love and happiness on her own?

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    1. Indeed. I didn't want to go too feminist litcrit, but my goodness Miranda is having her voice removed, just endlessly told to shut up. If she speaks she will be despised - how insulting is that!

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  4. Well, I'm almost never on Twitter nowadays (horrible toxic place, I hate it there nowadays and they should just delete it altogether) but I don't see a problem with the idea of the fashions. 1950 was when Dior was doing a Long Line which was basically long and slender and sheath like, and designers were doing bustle draperies immediately after the New Look so I guess as an impressionistic vision it kind of works, some slim lovely lady in filmy stripes with ruffles and maybe some kind of nonsense at the back of the waist like a bow or a dash or drapery.

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    1. Sash or drapery with some dash...
      I'll take your word for it, though I couldn't clearly visualize. I think of Nancy Mitford's letters from Paris and descriptions of her young visitors: a much sharper line I think. But perhaps that was her friends. (She was also always saying how dowdy the English visitors were..)

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  6. I have read this long ago, I think, Moira, but it clearly did not make a great impact, as I don't remember much about it. These do seem rather tiresome people so - yes - I am going to regard this as something you've read so that I don't have to. I realise that I have been less forgiving of bad mothers in fiction, since I became a mother myself!

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    1. I thought I would like it more: but then I also don't like Vita Sackville-West's All Passion Spent, another look at the thoughts and feelings of older women. I WANT to like them! I will keep searching for older-women books - Sylvia Townsend Warner is good...
      And yes, I know what you mean about motherhood: you would think you would be more sympathetic, but I agree: NO.

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  7. Hello, Moira! The passage you reproduced wasn't exactly smooth reading, so I can imagine how "National Velvet" must read. "Tripping the reader up" is a nice way of putting it. I suppose every writer has a unique style, as with Enid Bagnold in this case, a sort of literary identity.

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    1. Prashant! Lovely to hear from you. Yes, her style is unique, and maybe other people like it more. At least it is distinctive, I think I could identify her from it.. .

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