Gasp at the Dodie Smith heroine in her Bo-Peep outfit

the book:

The Town in Bloom by Dodie Smith

published 1965    Book 2 Chapter 2  set in the mid-1920s

[Narrator Mouse is an aspiring actress, going to an audition, advised by her friends]

I wore a circular cape and a straw hat that resembled a coal-scuttle bonnet… my dress was pale-grey, tight-bodiced and full-skirted…  and my black shoes had cut-steel buckles… When I studied my face in a dressing-table glass I knew I could play Lady Macbeth; when I pranced in front of a long glass I felt I should make an ideal Puck. I was thankful for such versatility…

‘I’ve cheered things up a bit,’ said Lilian. She had taken a small pink feather from one of her own hats and pinned it on to my coal-scuttle bonnet…. I also had a grey umbrella, a tall umbrella, unusually so, with its length increased by the ivory shepherd’s crook which formed its handle. I thought highly of this umbrella. We all went downstairs and out to the bus-stop…

Molly instructed the bus conductor to put me down as near as possible to the Crossway Theatre. He eyed my umbrella handle with interest and said he would take good care of Little Bo-Peep.

observations: OMG what DOES she look like? No, she isn’t meant to be in costume, this is her everyday outfit for 1920s London. This book is a complete (and probably new) treat for any Dodie Smith fans – it is like a cross between I Capture the Castle and Noel Streatfeild's Ballet Shoes, so what could be nicer? It is a classic story of four young women living in a hostel together, trying to make their way in theatrical London, falling in love and so on, bookended by a reunion of the grown women 40 years later. Mouse is not exactly an unreliable narrator, but throughout the book her comments on herself, her bizarre clothes (“seriously, Molly, if she goes out in that she’ll be mobbed” Lillian says) and her very, mmm, individual style of acting are hilarious – her appearance as an emergency understudy a particular delight (“I jumped on the footstool… this winning idea just came to me… I rather expected people would be in the wings to congratulate me, but no-one was.”)

The book is lightweight, but it is laugh-out-loud funny, and Mouse’s naïve new-girl ponderings are refreshingly free from prissiness.

Links up with:
Dodie Smith, and also mentioned here. An entry on Hilary Mantel’s young-women-sharing book looks at the genre a bit more. Ballet Shoes is here, and emergency understudies feature in this entry.

Colm probably remembers The Heathen - the converted mews flat, so referred to because the conversion hasn’t been very successful.

The photo is from
George Eastman House, via Flickr.