A Nest of Magpies by Sybil Marshall
published 1993 chapter 22 set in the 1960s
[Narrator Fran is finding something to wear for a village harvest festival called a horkey]
I dragged out dresses that hadn’t seen the light of day for years, and spread them out while we made a shortlist. Then I tried them on, one after the other, while William sat by the first open fire of the autumn in the sitting-room, and I made entrance after entrance in one frock after another, complete with accessories dug out of boxes, drawers and cupboards here, there and everywhere. On one occasion the interval between my appearances was so long that my catwalk turn was wasted, because the only greeting my entrance got was a muffled snore. But when he did come to, he said at once, ‘That’s it! You can’t better that. It makes you look like a better class of gypsy. All mysterious inner fire. You need some huge drop earrings and a flower in your hair.’
observations: How very like, and yet how very unlike, the scene in Bridget Jones’s Diary where Daniel generously helps Bridget choose among a selection of skimpy tarts’ outfits for a fancy dress party.
Fran is: 1) a 40-something widow 2) a goody goody 3) pursuing a romance with William, and 4) not notable for her mysterious inner fire throughout the rest of this very long book. But Sybil Marshall was 80 when it was published, and really, that kind of forestalls criticism. It is good fun, and entertaining, though it’s a pity the characters are given pages and pages to debate morality, egalitarianism, changes in the countryside, and sexual liberation, with particular relation to the times - the1960s. The brightest character in it, Johanna, who is very beautiful, very wicked, and secretly very low-class, is a great loss when she disappears part way through.
Strangely, Fran several times criticizes other characters for their clichéd talk – she should turn her savage ear on herself, and perhaps on William too. She is someone that you feel you might avoid in real life.
Links up with: Miss Read’s chronicles of village life are not sharper than many books, but they’re sharper than this one. There’s a new dress in prospect in a small village here, hundreds of years earlier. A different scene from Bridget Jones’s Diary is here.
The picture is a costume design for the opera Carmen by Fyodor Federovsky.