Miss Silver comes To Stay by Patricia Wentworth


published 1951






[from the book] Whereas Rietta Cray was in a short brown tweed skirt and an old sweater of natural wool, both very well-worn, Catherine looked as if everything she had on had been most carefully chosen. There was nothing that was not suitable, but the general effect was that everything was a little too new. She might have taken part just as she was in the mannequin parade of some house which specialized in country clothes. The grey tweed coat and skirt were perfectly cut. The jumper of a paler shade, displayed the very latest neckline, her smart brogues the very latest heel.




comments: We have had this discussion on country tweeds before: notably in Agatha Christie’s The Moving Finger, where Joanna thinks she has the right clothes for the country, but doesn’t, and Megan arouses in Jerry this splendid line about her rough country clothes: ‘It just infuriates me to see you so slack’.

And then there is Rosamond Lehman’s marvellous Echoing Grove where the two sisters can always be relied on to dress differently: ‘well-cut old tweeds’ versus slacks. And another outing for a picture I like very much, click on the link to see it…

The Nancy Mitford girls in Pursuit of Love (author and book all over the blog) wear stiff Scotch tweeds ‘so different from supple French flattering ones’ with hand-knitted jumpers to ‘go with, not match’. (quoted also in the blogpost on Kate Atkinson’s Transcription, as a demonstration of the ubiquity of home-made woollies.) In the later Don’t Tell Alfred by Mitford, Grace – Nancy’s mouthpiece – says again that French tweeds are prettier. It is quite clear that the British ones are country tweeds, and the French ones are high fashion.

And by the way, the two women in the boat are how I imagine any two Mitford sisters looked on their way to the remote Scottish island where their mother had moved to.

 



In Ngaio Marsh’s Scales of Justice, one of her most excruciatingly snobbish books, there is Kitty trying and failing: in a tweed suit, high heels and embroidered gloves, ‘I,’ Kitty added, ‘wore a check skirt and a twin set’ to play golf ‘Madly county, you know’. Not a hope of fitting in.

And one of the very first CiB blog entries has Miss Marple ‘not wanting to be snobbish’ (yeah right) about tweeds versus party dress, and the class indicators therein.

The ‘house’ above, by the way, is a house of fashion (as posh designers were pretentiously known), in case it isn’t clear.

And there is yet more class contrast in this book – A character called Fancy (good-hearted but common) wears a scarlet suit which is really not quite quite. Making it clear that she is not right for the very eligible male hero, Carr (all these names are typically Wentworth-ian)



The book is a good one, with some slightly more varied characters than normal and some good swerves and twists. It is none the worse for being about slightly older women than the normal key figures in Wentworth books: Rietta and Catherine are cousins who have history with a man – but it IS history, the broken engagement for once was a long time ago. The man concerned has come back to the village where the two women have separately made their homes. It is clear which of them the reader is rooting for, but what happens next is wholly unpredictable (as is the question of who people end up with). There is a nice wide range of suspects, all of them behaving in ridiculous ways to draw attention and suspicion to themselves. There is a will subplot which is rather unusual and I found very compelling – although someone had behaved badly, and not quite honestly, one could sympathize with the horrible situation she found herself in, it was well done, and the details explained very clearly.





Mourning clothes are a frequent flyer in Miss Silver books, and here we have this excellent sentence:

‘the ensuing financial stringency had not prevented her from acquiring mourning garments of a most expensive and becoming nature.’

I often say that most Miss Silver books, among the predictable tropes, contain something unexpected and haunting. This one I had read 20 years ago but had no memory of, I thought. But on re-reading I came across a subplot concerning a woman who never actually appears, and realized I had remembered the rather bleak story and never been able to pin down where I read it. She is worthy of the lost women in the backgrounds of Jane Austen novels.

There are many Wentworth books on the blog – see label below – and also a blogpost in which I dared to send Miss Marple head to head with Miss Silver. Talk about the unbeatable force meeting the immoveable – but I greatly enjoyed writing it.

Plenty of nice tweed suit pictures, mostly from Kristine’s photostream, most of them definitely over-smart for the country, but I will leave it to the reader to assign them to correct and not-correct.

The older b/w pic is my goto picture to demonstrate how unflattering tweeds could be - this is silent movie star Dorothy Gish, demonstrably one of the most beautiful women of the early 20th C, looking pretty ordinary in her tweeds coat and skirt.

Comments

  1. Interesting that distinction between 'country' clothes and city clothes, Moira. There's a lot of that in Agatha Christie, too. And I'm so glad that this book focuses on characters who aren't quite as young any more. Your comment about remembering and re-reading resonated with me. Whenever I re-read something, I find some at least one thing that I misremembered or had almost forgotten ('Oh ,yes, she does have a cousin' - that sort of thing).

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    1. Yes! Exactly Margot. It's one of the joys of re-reading mind you. I've just been re-reading a book where there was a fact that I was convinced was revealed at the climax of the book - only to find out it was laid out very clearly on about page 20. Our subconscious giving us messages.

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  2. Here's an amazon review: Un peu de suspense mais une fin tirée par les cheveux. L'auteure n'a pas du tout su exploiter son histoire. Dommage !

    I confuse this one with Anna Where Are You? Must read again.

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    1. Firm words from the French. Anna is one of my favourites and this is right up there too, definitely a good one. Mind you, feel I could read it again in five years and have no memory of what is going on. No harm in that though.

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  3. I am reading this right now and enjoying the clothes - and everything actually - no end. Perfect comfort reading. I had forgotten how good Wentworth can be.

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    1. It has all her good features pulled together in a good plot. The perfect read for right now.

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  4. This is just so pleasing, and now I must read the book.

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    1. Thank you, and I think from what you said, you will like it. Wentworth uses clothes very carefully in her books...

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  5. I was intrigued by you mentioning the Mitfords' island, Inch Kenneth. It's just off the coast of Mull, where I was brought up, and Unity died in the old Cottage Hospital here in Oban. When I was a child we'd go for Sunday drives down that side of Mull and I'd look at Inch Kenneth, and the mansion on it, not knowing it's history, and envisage it making a great luxury hotel/spa getaway.
    Local lore has it Unity gave her Swastika badge to a Mull farmer who rowed them back and forth - no idea if that's true.
    That local connection began my fascination with the Mitford family, which has never waned.
    As for Patricia Wentworth, I've a Miss Silver book somewhere - I must seek it out.
    Great post, as ever.

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    1. Oh fascinating - I share your fascination with the Mitfords, how amazing that you could see the house and island. When I read about them, they usually talk about a 'cottage' and my mind visualizes something quite simple, but then I see a photograph and it's quite grand in a stark way isn't it? I have always loved Nancy's description of them bringing her mother's body across the water with a piper playing. Not a dry eye in the house...

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  6. It must have been exhausting some decades ago or even now - you can let me know - to keep track of all the class distinctions and demarcations in England. Could anyone keep track of them all?

    The photo of the two women in the boat is memorable. I wonder what colour or colours they were wearing on their sojourn upon the water. I expect it was not scarlet.

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    1. I think that luckily clothes are not SUCH a class indicator these days, but really it is a subject for endless research. If I was academically minded I should've done a PhD - as should Lucy Fisher. And really it was shibboleths - the superior people acted as if their rules were objectively important and right, when they were (on the whole) just random. 'Oh we can't call it that - we must call it this!'

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  7. I have a rust-coloured Harris Tweed jacket from circa 1950, which I bought at a second-hand clothes stall at the market place in Cambridge in the spring of 1990 for - believe it or not - ten pounds. It's my best buy ever. It was 40 years old when bought it, and I have now had it for 30 years and it is in PERFECT condition. Like new. I swear it is indestructible and will last several lifetimes after me. It's beautiful and I love it, but soft and supple it is not. In fact it's a bit like steel wool, so when I read about the Mitford sisters' stiff Scotch tweed I knew immediately what they meant. (It's scratchy too, which would usually be a no-no for me, but when it comes to my beautiful Harris Tweed jacket. everything is forgiven.)

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    1. Oh lucky you, sounds wonderful. Yes, you have to know what you are letting yourself in for with Tweed, I don't know how the French make them soft and supple! I got myself a job 20 years ago (after achieving a Green Card in the US) and celebrated my first paycheck by buying a tweed jacket which I still love and wear: it is Ralph Lauren, and looks like new. It needs the right accompaniments, but it is a fine item. Now I'm thinking that if I ever get rid of it (which I can't imagine) someone else will buy it secondhand and wear it for another 30 years!

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  8. Every time you do a post on one of Wentworth's book I want to pick up one immediately. But I cannot do that right now. Maybe soon, after finishing the Gladys Mitchell, and I have a Nicholas Blake to read next.

    This particular book I don't have now, but I will put it on a wishlist.

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    1. I must say Tracy - Gladys Mitchell, Nicholas Blake and Patricia Wentworth sounds like a great line of books to read. When I start a Wentworth I always think 'oh they're all the same' - - not at all a criticism - but I am starting to distinguish them more these days.

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  9. For me the Fancy character was an interesting outlier in the Silver books. Nowadays her reactions do come over a bit too much as knowing your place, but in the Wentworth world portraying a lower class woman mixing with the upper middle class as being kind and honorable was a little unusual. For similar reasons to your own this is one of my favorite Silver books. The Silver world is also one where an invasion by Angela Thirkell characters would add a Mrs Bradley sense of anarchy - unleashing Lydia into a crime story is perhaps an interesting thought.

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    1. Yes agree totally, Fancy was splendid (and could possibly have brought a little bit of sense and solidity to that excruciating family - but that would be too much to expect), and I loved her mother who didn't even appear. I love the idea of Lydia breaking into Miss Silver world - and in fact there are few books that wouldn't be improved by Lydia's artless activities. My mind is ranging now...

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