She looks away and laughs: quick and bitter, and the silence descends again. After a while she says: ‘You are an enigma, Mlle Roux.’ And it is in that moment that someone close by says: ‘Luce!’
The woman is dressed in grey, with a ruffle at the throat of her blouse: but underneath her skirt I see the toes of riding boots. Her face is long and lean, like a horse’s, brown-grey hair pulled sharply back, but the eyes are twinkling, and the skin of her face is leathery, as if she spends a lot of time outdoors. Terpsichore is grinning; they lean forward for the bises; the woman looks at me over Terpsichore’s shoulder. Then she takes my hand and shakes it, like a man.
Terpsichore says: ‘Mademoiselle Roux, may I present Madame Vercors, wife of Louis Vercors, former Minister of the Interior.’
‘Aurélie,’ says the woman. ‘Call me Aurélie.’
‘Enchantée,’ I say.
observations: A clever entertaining book with a refreshingly cold heart and a setting in the early days of the French film industry – there’s a lot to like. It’s a bit fussy at times, too many changes of tense and narrator and time, and too much riding on the (really not very interesting) twist, but definitely an author who is going places, and who can do a lot with descriptions of people, places and (very important round here) clothes. The book takes in love, jealousy, bisexuality and glamour in pre-1914 Paris. Of course, the movie-star Terpsichore and her assistant are there for the first night of The Rite of Spring…. which tells you what kind of book this is.
I’m guessing Aurelie is wearing a riding-habit, a byway of women’s fashions that always intrigues. Rich women were expected to ride side-saddle, so had special clothes designed to fit the activity. Those of us who aren’t great horsepeople find it very hard to imagine riding sidesaddle – apparently it wasn’t dangerous and difficult, and you weren’t much more likely to fall off. But I don’t know why that should be.
*Added Later* My most informative blog reader and costume expert, Ken Nye, very much doubts that it was a riding habit - see what he has to say in the comments below...
Links on the blog: Aristo in a habit here. Silent movies in this recent entry, British film history here, and an American moviestar came up last week.
The picture is of Elizabeth the Empress of Austria dressed for riding in 1884.