The Green Hat by Michael Arlen
published 1924 chapter 4
You danced again in the Bois in Paris, the trees like monstrous black pagodas against the night, the stars brilliant as sequins on an archangel’s floating cloak, the magically white faces of women, the lights in the night making love to the black shadows in their hair, their lips red as lobsters, their armpits clean as ivory, the men talking with facile gestures, the whole tapestry of the Chateau de Madrid like a painted fan against the summer night. They call this rhythm the Blues, which is short for a low state of vitality brought about by the action of life on the liver. O Baby, it’s divine!
That is what they say, our elders.
Astorias, chef d’orchestre, stood at rest by the edge of the balcony, his violin under his arm, his bow gently tapping the edge of a bowl of nameless ferns that hid his feet. His negligence is informed with depression, his poise leans on melancholy. The Blues, that man knows. He seems to wonder why he is there, why anyone is there, why everyone is there. No-one can tell him, so he goes on doing nothing, lonely as a star in hell. He does not toil, nor spin, nor play his violin. From the crowded floor a woman, her face powdered brown, her mouth scarlet as the inside of a pomegranate in a tale by Oscar Wilde, beseeches him with an arm black-gloved to the shoulder to continue to play. He yields.
observations: The overwrought style (Why the inside of a pomegranate? Why Wilde?) is the joy of Michael Arlen, and this book. When we visited it before, we mentioned Claud Cockburn’s excellent study in his book Bestseller – as he points out, readers got to hear about sinful lives, and after some long lavish descriptions they were reassured to find out that no-one was really happy. Job done. The book has a splendid subtitle: A Romance for a Few People – as Cockburn says, this ‘caressed and flattered’ each of the hundreds of thousands of readers.
Apparently everyone is wearing green dresses at this night-club – ‘ there were 39 green dresses’ – jade green, October green, rusty green, soft green, sea-green.
There’s a nice line pour épater le bourgeois as a haughty woman walks through the club: “She suspected they might be thinking she was going to more than powder her nose. They were, she was, who cared?”
Links up with: this entry really needs to be read in conjunction with the earlier one on the book. A lot more discussion of long – or 'opera' - gloves in the 1920s here, and gloves are very important to the Little Women.
The picture is of Hollywood actress Jeanne Crain.