LOOKING AT WHAT GOES ON UNDER THE CLOTHES
By Grand Central Station I Sat Down And Wept by Elizabeth Smart
from regular guest blogger Colm Redmond
It sits like his ham sandwich in a small knot in his stomach. ‘If you are in a hurry, try Tums for indigestion. Tums are tops for those on the run.’
Punctually, like his ticket-puncher, he goes in and out of the cave of revelation. One eye is full of dust from the street and the other is on the clock. Wife, open your legs. Five minutes and I go on duty.
Sheers, O you mad frivolous sisters, sheers.
observations: You could read this book in the time it takes to have a leisurely dinner, and summarise the plot - “young woman has an affair, under the nose of her lover’s wife” - in the space for optional gratuities on the bill. And if the plot matters little, it’s a good job, because nothing here makes you feel like the narrator is very nice. She obsesses about what other people might be thinking, but appears not to care much about their feelings. Despite all that, you keep on reading, hypnotised, because the delirious meandering flow of words is so beautiful.
You can forgive someone a lot when she writes something like the second extract above. It’s a very James Joyce kind of thing, to describe someone’s lunch and conjure up a whole person. Within seconds we seem to understand him and his marriage, and know his wife. The sleight of hand is so elegant that you almost don’t notice the callow arrogance - thinking she knows what other people’s (less privileged) lives and even their sex lives are like; dismissing people who look ordinary as being ordinary and assuming they have no Deep Feelings like hers.
Sheers (a big feature in Auntie Mame’s wardrobe) are flimsy, see thru clothes, often dresses. (They will generally but not always have more robust garments worn underneath them…) I guess Smart uses “sheers” as a microcosm of making an effort, particularly dressing up nice; the implication being that even if the purpose of all that may be to please men, one will therefore have one’s own life improved by some man or other, one way or another. Or at least: that you might have fun; I think “frivolous” here is an ambition - on behalf of the people she’s presuming to advise - not a criticism. And the “scaffolding” is one’s real self underneath the superficialities (the same ones by which she so readily judges other people.) But I can’t be sure: that’s prose poetry for you.
That “pink ruffled negligee” is likely to be sheer too, of course. The main pic is of Marilyn Monroe, early 1950s, in what is described as a red negligee. [The pic may have been colourised, I don’t know for sure.] The other is of someone not battling for stockings but giving them up for the war effort – to be made into gunpowder bags.
A Shakespearean negligee featured in last week's Dress Down entry, and you can find that one and more by clicking on the label below.
For more from the guest blogger, click on his name below.