Dress Down Sunday -
looking at what goes on under the clothes
Rules of Civility by Amor Towles
published 2011 chapter 7
set in the late 1930s
When the bowls were cleared, I excused myself to go to the bathroom. A nice burgundy had been served with the soup and my head was beginning to turn on its spindle. There was a little washroom near the living room, but thumbing my nose at etiquette, I went down the hall to the master bath. From a quick look around the bedroom I could see that Eve was no longer sleeping alone. I peed and flushed. Then, as I was standing at the sink washing my hands, Eve appeared. She winked at me in the mirror. She hoisted up her dress and sat on the toilet, just like old times. It made me regret having wanted to snoop.
—So, she said coyly, what do you think about Wallace?
—He seems grade A.
—And then some.
She flushed and pulled up her hose. She came over and took my place at the sink. There was a small ceramic cigarette box on the vanity. I lit one and sat on the john to smoke. I watched as she washed her hands.
observations: This is a delicate matter, following ladies into the bathroom, but Amor Towles started it. Contrary to what that name might suggest, Towles is a man. And boy does he make it crashingly obvious here. She ‘pulled up her hose’? In 1938? What does he think she is wearing? Last week we had a stocking detail proving (to our own satisfaction) that the words were written by a woman: here we have the opposite.
Martin Amis says his father used to read novels and talk aloud to them – when there was dialogue or actions he didn’t like he would say ‘No he didn’t…. she didn’t say that... ’ We don’t otherwise have much in common with Kingsley Amis, but this book – which we confidently expected to love – brought out the argumentative in us. To be clear: at that date, this young woman would have been wearing stockings with garters or a suspender (US: garter) belt. Neither would move while she relieved herself. Look at the picture. When tights/hose came in, 30 years later, then she would have been pulling them up or down. More arguments arose in the rest of the book: Agatha Christie’s Peril at End House features, but the plot is wrongly described. Characters visit England and the geography goes completely berserk (they land in Southampton then travel to London ‘along the coast’ - impossible - via Brixham - more than a hundred miles in the wrong direction). Towles can’t even describe postage stamps correctly. A shoehorned-in reference to Edith Wharton makes no sense at all – has he confused her with someone else, perhaps the fictional Catherine Sloper?
Links up with: more Dress Down Sunday via the label below – particularly last week’s stockings.
The picture is by Boris Grigoriev and is from Wikimedia Commons.