The Town in Bloom by Dodie Smith

1965  Part 2 chapter 10   set in the mid-1920s

[Narrator Mouse is attending a garden party at a village in the country. She is helping with the entertainment, her friends are coming as visitors]

I hoped to see some pretty dresses but most of the gentry wore drab-looking silk, and the villagers wore drab cotton. Not one dress, in my view, qualified as a real garden-party dress. I remembered that Molly, LIlian and Zelle had worried about what they should wear…

A large, chauffeur-driven car pulled up at the garden gate and out got three absolute visions in fluttering printed chiffon. Molly’s was mainly pale green, Lilian’s was pink and mauve, and Zelle’s was beige and white. All their dresses – and their hats – were the apotheosis of garden-party clothes

[Later] I found I looked pretty awful... My grey linen dress with its spotless white collar (“like” a Puritan Maid, according to Aunt Marion) was creased and the collar no longer spotless. I felt in no mood to mingle with the girls in their chiffon glory.

observations: On a sunny summer's weekend, wouldn't we all like to be going to a garden party? All the young women's lives will be changed at this event  – it is a very traditional book in many ways, even though it is also quite weird. The girls have a surprisingly modern attitude to sex, deceit and adultery: most unlike Cassandra in I Capture the Castle. This book is to Castle as The Whicharts is to Ballet Shoes in Noel Streatfeild world – see more about this here.

When it was published, one reviewer said it was ‘a book with no tone whatsoever’, and others criticized it as being out of step with the times. Valerie Groves wrote a biography of the author, Dear Dodie, which makes fascinating reading: it is clear from it just how autobiographical Town is, what an odd life DS led, and that the girls’ attitudes to sex in this book were very much shared by DS, who had a surprisingly racy time in her teens and twenties – only just hanging on to her amateur status, as Dodie Smith rather startlingly said.

Links on the blog: Town in Bloom features here and here, I Capture the Castle here and here. Garden parties of sorts here and here.

Top picture is from the Thomas Lennon collection at the Australian Powerhouse Museum, the lower one from the State Library of Queensland.


  1. Moira - What a great look at attitudes and life in that time and that place. And what an interesting contrast between the girls' attitudes and the more conservative views of the time. I love those garden party 'photos too. :-)

    1. It's a very funny book, and although conventional in some ways, it can still surprise you in others!


Post a Comment