A Party in San Niccolo by Christobel Kent
published 2003 chapter 26 set in 1997
[Frances is about to celebrate her 75th birthday] Perhaps it was because she was fundamentally superficial, Frances thought idly, without distress, but she could always remember clothes. For Frances they were repositories of memory and emotion. She could remember the dress she wore to be presented at court as a debutante, white duchesse satin with tight-fitting sleeves; the colour of the skirt she wore when she broke her arm climbing a tree at the age of nine; almost every one of her mother’s evening dresses, scarlet velvet, black satin, scoop-necked, strapless, chiffon, all fragrant with tuberose and her mother’s perspiration. Frances could remember what she was wearing when Roland first kissed her: a dark-red wool suit with glass buttons, a nipped-in waist and reversed cuffs, a flared, ballet-length skirt. She had bought it from a bombed-out shop on Shaftesbury Avenue with three months’ War Office pay, unable to resist its hauteur as it stood on the wooden mannequin in the shattered window.
This could be the Clothes in Books mission statement. Of course she remembers all her clothes, don’t we all? And of course she’s not superficial. This is the first of Christobel Kent’s novels with a setting in and around Florence: this one is not sure if it’s a thriller or a romantic comedy or a look at life, but is still a good read, and her books have got better and better since this one – now she has a series featuring Florentine private eye Sandro Cellini, excellent.
Tomorrow’s blog entry will feature two Nancy Mitford heroines discussing how they think about clothes all the time – ‘even in church.’ And this love of clothes is also reminiscient of NM’s Fanny (short for Frances, like the heroine above) being ‘obliged to admit’ that she has always had a (human) love object in her mind, for as long as she could remember, in the same book. Style icon Veronica Chaddesley Corbett agrees with her: “from kiddie-car to hearse, darling, I couldn’t know it better. After all, what would there be to think about when one’s alone otherwise?” Well, clothes obviously, and all these heroines seem to enjoy both these key elements without needing to apologize, and without seeming stupid, or uninvolved with other aspects of life.
The photo is from the Powerhouse Museum, via Flickr.