The Green Hat by Michael Arlen

published 1924   chapter 6

All over the room elderly women were dancing with young men of both sexes. Mio Mi Marianne was there, sitting alone, but I might not speak with her because I was with my sister. A demi-mondaine will feel insulted if you speak with her when you are with your sister. Two years before Mio Mi Marianne had one night tied a silk handkerchief round her wrist, and it became the fashion for women to tie silk handkerchiefs round their wrists. Then Mio Mi Marianne tied a silk handkerchief her throat, and that became the fashion. She thought of these things while smoking opium…Her eyes were intent on an opium-dream, and she was very happy in the arms of the infinite…

The dancers left the floor, the lights dwindled and awoke again in swaying shadows of blue and carmine. A heavily-built young man with the face of a murderer danced a tango with a lovely young girl with short golden curls. Then he threw her on the floor, and picked her up again. Rudolf and Raymonde. He did it beautifully. An American woman called the Duchess of Malvern threw Rudolf a pink carnation. The Baron de Belus said harshly: “That is a white carnation really, but it is blushing…”

observations: We do like to visit a sin-filled nightclub: this one is in Sodom, in Gomorrah – in Paris. Michael Arlen is the perfect guide, as we explained in earlier entries which should be read with this one. And the narrator is contrasting this scene of vice with the circumstances in which he has just left Iris Storm: he found her in Le Paradis, which could have been a nightclub, an asylum or a morgue, but turned out to be a medical facility run by nuns.

The overwrought prose style often features those odd reverse sentences: ‘That was a conscientious man, Conrad Masters. How glad I was of him…’ – you know where you are with constructions like that. The plot is made to tip, in part, on one word – does Iris have ptomaine poisoning or septicaemic? – although the whole story is so outrageous that it doesn’t matter much. For purity!

Links up with: Nightclubs feature for Miss Pettigrew and for Damon Runyon. The Green Hat has featured before, here and here.

The photo is of a tango mural chalked on a wall in Argentina.


  1. Moira - The story may be outrageous but I do love the depiction of the lifestyle and the nightclub. The tango! What a dance...

  2. Yes - and stories involving the tango SHOULD be over the top and outrageous....


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