Wearing men's pyjamas beautifully: Possession

the book:

Possession by A S Byatt

published 1990   chapter 28

"...The landlord was moving round the hall with candles in bottles. Huge pans of water were boiling on the kitchen Aga. At no other time would the incursion of so many wet, dirty scholars in the small hours have been met with such casual and unquestioning calm... Dressing gowns and spare sweaters were found for all, amongst Cropper’s bags and Hildebrand’s brand-new luggage. It was all so unreal, and the sense of communal survival was so powerful that they sat stupidly good, smiling weakly, damp and chill. Neither Cropper nor the others, curiously, could find force to be angry or even indignant. The box sat between candles, on the table in the window, rusty and earthy and wet. The women, all three clothed in pyjamas – Maud in Cropper’s black silk, Leonora in his scarlet cotton, and Beatrice in peppermint and white stripes belonging to Hildebrand, sat side by side on the bed...."

the picture:


Possession again. This is the aftermath of, of all things, a grave-robbing expedition – a rare occurrence in novels.  There has been a grand storm, which has caused all the participants to get very wet, and brought down trees, so there has been a powercut in the inn.  Hence the candles - today is Candlemas.  Two of those present have opened the grave of a major Victorian poet, to find out what secrets are contained in a box buried with him. The other participants have rushed to stop them. But they didn’t stop the box from being dug up, so now they are all going to open it together and find out the truth…
The photo is of Claudette Colbert in the film Palm Beach Story – she represents the summit, the peak, of dressing in borrowed pyjamas, and the Possession ladies simply cannot compete. She is on an overnight train and, oh for reasons which do not matter, she (or the costume department at Paramount) has improvised for herself an outfit made of men’s pyjamas and a towel – that’s why the word Pullman is visible on her skirt. Look and admire. She is the Queen.


  1. For God's sake, what was in the box? I never can get through a Byatt book and won't now even to find out the answer. Isn't it funny that men's clothes wriggle their way into versions for women but never the other way round?


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