Dress Down Sunday: The right bra...

Dress Down Sunday -
looking at what goes on under the clothes

the book:

Travels with my Aunt by Graham Greene

Published 1969     Part 1 Chapter 11

[Narrator Henry Pulling, wants to visit the Louvre] … but my aunt would have none of it. ‘All those naked women with bits missing,’ she said. ‘It’s morbid. I once knew a girl who was chopped up that way between the Gare du Nord and Calais Maritime. She had met a man in the place where I worked who travelled in ladies’ underwear – or so he said, and he certainly had an attaché case with him full of rather fanciful brassieres which he persuaded her to try on. There was one shaped like two clutching black hands that greatly amused her. He invited her to go to England with him, and she broke her contract with our patronne and decamped. It was quite a cause celebre. He was called the Monster of the Chemins de Fer by the newspapers, and he was guillotined, after making his confession and receiving the sacrament, in an odour of sanctity. It was said by his counsel that he had a misplaced devotion to virginity owing to his education by the Jesuits, and he therefore tried to remove all girls who led loose lives…. The brassieres were a kind of test. You were condemned if you chose the wrong one like those poor men in the Merchant of Venice…’

observations: Another visit to this rather marvellous book: a typically shocking anecdote to broaden the horizons of the bank manager Henry, and a glimpse into the riotous past of Aunt Augusta – when in her 70s she looks ‘rather as the late Queen Mary of beloved memory might have dressed if she had still been with us and had adapted herself a little bit towards the present mode’, but we suspect she wasn’t as formal or as respectable in her past. And indeed we see her in a bathing suit, here.

A 1972
film of the book gave the part of the aunt to Maggie Smith, who was under 40 at the time, and although she is a wonderful actress, the film was a travesty, with Aunt Augusta played as a quirky eccentric aunt, a bit fussy, a bit Wodehouse – when the point surely is that she really did live a risqué life, close to the edge and full of drama and sexual freedom. As Nancy Mitford wrote to Evelyn Waugh, after reading The End of the Affair: “What a sexy man he must be, Mr Greene.”

The bra with the clasped hands sounds splendid, and should surely be created by some enterprising manufacturer.

Links up with: More Dress Down by clicking on the label below, more Travels, more
bras, more clothes to be murdered in. And you can see how Queen Mary dressed in 1937 in one of the pictures in this entry.

The picture is a French advert for early forms of bras, of approximately the right era, though you feel Graham Greene might actually have had something more modern in mind. 


  1. Aunt Augusta is a great character isn't she. I hadn't realised bras were that old.

  2. Moira - I always dislike it so much when film adaptations aren't true to the real characters in the books. Aunt Augusta is a wonderful character in the book and although I confess I've not seen the film, it would be such a shame to make her 'less' in any way.


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