Patricia Brent, Spinster by Hubert Jenkins

published 1918









[Patricia] recalled a remark of Miss Wangle's that no really nice-minded woman ever dressed in black and white unless she had some ulterior motive. Upon the subject of sex-attraction Miss Wangle posed as an authority…

With great deliberation Patricia selected a black charmeuse costume that Miss Wangle had already confided to the whole of Galvin House was at least two and a half inches too short; but as Patricia had explained to Mrs. Hamilton, if you possess exquisitely fitting patent boots that come high up the leg, it's a sin for the skirt to be too long. She selected a black velvet hat with a large white water-lily on the upper brim. "You look bad enough for a vicar's daughter," she said, surveying herself in the glass as she fastened a bunch of red carnations in her belt. "White at the wrists and on the hat, yes, it looks most improper.”




observations: In a low-key way, I am attempting the Books of the Century challenge this year. The rules, and bloggers’ takes on it, vary, but in my case I am hoping to read during 2014 a book first published in each of the years from 1900-2000.

This won’t get really exciting till the very end of the year, when I am trying to fill in some gaps, but it is obvious already where the difficulties will lie: 1900-1920, and the 1970s and 80s. (So far I have read 70 books for the challenge.) So this book helps in that respect, and it looked like a promising concept for a light romantic read. Patricia Brent lives in a boarding house, and overhears other residents bitching about her loneliness, lack of a husband and so on. Furious, she proclaims that the next night she will be dining with her fiancĂ© at a smart hotel restaurant. Sensation. Above, she is getting ready for her imaginary date – she has decided to go and eat alone that evening. But when she gets there, 3 of the boarding-house residents have turned up to stalk her. So she looks round for a man dining alone, sits herself down at his table and urgently whispers to him to play along. He does.

This is a good start, and takes up the first section of the book. The problem for Mr Jenkins is then to spin out the story for a lot more pages, and unfortunately he does it by making Patricia act in a ridiculous and tiresome way – her chance-met young soldier is obviously the man for her, but that’s not going to fill the book. So Patricia has to have weird qualms, and be incredibly rude and hurtful to many people who are very nice to her. I could have strangled her by the end. So I fear I am too hard-hearted for this book, but it was a cheerful quick read, and had some nice details about life at the end of WW1 in London – a detailed description of an air raid for example. One resident of the boarding-house puts down their escaping from the bomb to the prayers of her uncle the bishop, but another character is:

frankly sceptical. If the august prelate was out to save Galvin House, he suggested, it wasn't quite cricket to let them drop a bomb in the next street.
A very proper response.

The picture above is a 1917 fashion plate from the NY Public Library – I was going to just show the left-hand outfit, but it seemed a shame to lose the others (and particularly the hat on the right). If I hadn’t already used the picture for another entry I might have put Patricia in this excellent outfit:





--though it’s probably too racy. Later on Patricia goes on holiday, and makes this mysterious remark to a woman friend:

‘One thing I won't do, that is wear openwork frocks. The sun shall not print cheap insertion kisses upon Patricia Brent.’
That will make a valuable addition to my list of completely incomprehensible sentences.

Or will it?  In Little Lies by Liane Moriarty, on the blog a while back, there is this: ‘the woman’s dress had an intricately embroidered cutout pattern of flowers all along the neckline. Jane could see tanned freckly skin through the petals.’ Were these cheap insertion kisses?
 
*****ADDED LATER: Clothes in Books readers are, as often demonstrated, very knowledgeable, and if you scroll down to the comments below you can read their valuable input, as they explain and look at the phenomenon of insertion kisses. Don't miss it. ******

Leaves and Pages also looked at this book, and had a similar reaction to mine (even choosing the same passage to quote…), while Simon at Stuck in a Book was very enthusiastic about it.


Comments

  1. Moira - Oh, I've read books like that too, that might better have been short stories, if that, than novels. As you say, an interesting premise, but still... And I can't argue with you about that sentence... Still, that hat on the right in the 'photo at the top is priceless!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes, I think your diagnosis that it could have been a short story is a good one. But it WAS interesting, and I did enjoy finding the fashion picture.

      Delete
  2. Ohh! I love the "cheap insertion kisses" line. It's so hard to think in terms of sun tanned skin being considered not only unfashionable but downright vulgar. I suppose the modern equivalent would be tan-lines that don't match up to the neckline of an expensive dress.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Nice comparison, thanks Ken. Is it the insertion that is cheap or the kisses? I think the sentence would make a good motto in life...

      Delete
    2. "Insertion" generally means lace or openwork that is made with a straight edge on both sides so that it can be sewn in between two pieces of other fabric. The best quality of clothing had the openwork done by hand, directly on the fabric. I take the line to combine her disgust at the idea of dresses made of inexpensive materials with her distain of women who were vulgar enough to allow the sun to touch their skins. "Kissed by the sun" is such an old-fashioned term now, but there was a time when "tanned" was only used to describe farm workers and leather. If one is going to be a spinster, I suppose one must take a firm stand on these issues...

      Delete
    3. Thanks Ken, and a lovely demonstration of my Clothes in Books point that you can pick up all kinds of unexpected information and illumination in the details...

      Delete
  3. Moira, I like the idea of reading a book for each year from 1900 to 2000 and I'm almost tempted to do something like that next year, but a hundred books seems rather daunting.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. One of the reasons I like this challenge, Prashant, is that there isn't really a time frame - some people set out to do it over two years, but you could also just see it as a nice list to keep, and fill in a year whenever you happen to read the right book. I thought I would finish it by December, but now I'm not sure I will - but that's fine, I'll just keep on going till I do.

      Delete
  4. Ken, you've got it. I'm sure everybody knows that "insertion" is a line of openwork decoration "inserted" into a dress.

    http://www.pinterest.com/auntiewithahook/edgings-and-insertions/

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. NIce pictures thanks Lucy. Would an 'openwork frock' imply only limited openwork, ie the insertion, or would it be openwork all over?

      Delete
  5. I like the sound of the challenge more than the book TBH. I don't very often focus too much on the date as most of my reading is probably recently published stuff. I make an exception if I'm in on Rich's monthly thing, but otherwise if I do it's more by chance. I would struggle for the first 40-odd years of the challenge and breeze for the last 50. Good luck though.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Maybe you should do a half-century challenge, it would suit your reading well wouldn't it? I like this one because at the moment I just open the spreadsheet and check the date, I'm not knocking myself out to do it, I just like watching the list fill up, and am relaxed on going on into next year with it...

      Delete
    2. Hmm..half-century sounds do-able Like you say read a few books and watch the list fill-up. I may add it into my "things-to-do" on the blog once I've cleared a few of the current sidebar challenges, which will go on until next year anyway. I am recording the library and noting the year as I go, as I wouldn't want to be reading anything out of order, so I may become more date conscious as I go.

      Delete
    3. You could include films - not really as helpful an option for the first years of the century, but might fit in with a half-century.

      Delete
  6. Daniel Milford-Cottam23 October 2014 at 08:48

    Yep. Insertion as in lace insertion. She's talking about a type of dress that was also called a lingerie dress. I discuss these in my book on Edwardian Fashion. Very much an Edwardian little black dress (albeit white!)in that the lingerie dress was available at all price levels from finest handmade lace numbers to something in cheap muslin with a few strips of machine lace bodged in. They were also evocatively called peekaboo as in "peekaboo waist" for an eyelet embroidery blouse, which I theorise is due to the idea that you might spot a square millimetre of bare flesh through an eyelet. By 1917 blouses with insertion were pretty much a standard part of the wardrobe unless you were incredibly puritanical. And I love the line about cheap insertion kisses. It implies that there were women who had tanlines in broderie-anglaise patterns across their arms and shoulders.

    I thought the terms peekaboo and lingerie sounded suspiciously modern, like titillating sexy terms made up decades after, but both were indeed contemporary terms! See also, x ray dress.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks Daniel, that is fascinating, I've just been having a look online at some pictures of all these past dresses. Yes indeed, you would assume those were modern terms. Some things don't change - - I'm guessing there were Edwardian mothers expressing their doubts about these revealing outfits and Edwardian daughters saying that it's perfectly all right, and everyone is wearing them. All to repeated down the years.

      Delete
  7. Fascinating comments above! I liked this book but wanted to slap her and say GET ON WITH IT! at a number of points when she dithered on and on and on.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes, that's exactly how I felt, that's the perfect one sentence review of her actions and behaviour....

      Delete
  8. I have often thought of doing the century challenge (you know how I love challenges) but I thought the early years would be too hard, as you say. However, I might take the approach you are describing, just doing it very casually. I already have a 50 states challenge going that I don't make much progress on. This book sounds good enough, but I probably won't add it to my list.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. AS I suggested to Col - a 50-year challenge would be good, especially if you included films: I think that's rather a good idea. I don't feel a huge compulsion to finish my list, I just like watching it fill up. I will start looking for specific-dated books nearer the end - and they will definitely be 1900-30 I'll be lacking.

      Delete
    2. Ah, but a 50-year challenge would be too easy. And I love books from the 30's and 40's. Including movies is a good idea. We have movies in our collection for every year from 1924 on... but few before then. It sounds like fun, if I don't obsess about it.

      Delete
    3. Hey, how about a 100-year challenge for next year, but running 1915 to 2015? That would work better and the films could slot in after the first ten years....

      Delete
    4. That is a brilliant idea. Thanks for the suggestion. I did not want to start until 2015 anyway. I will do that. Already thinking ahead to this project in January.

      Delete
    5. Go for it Tracy, look forward to hearing more next year....

      Delete
    6. I'm gatecrashing - I might run one on the side-bar next year from 1950 to 2015 and read gently towards it in no particular order. If that works - I'll take baby steps and go backwards a decade at a time. I won't set a time limit on it.

      Delete
    7. Great! I will probably still be doing my century into 2015, so the three of us can do our own thing together, if that makes sense. It was low-key, low-stress anyway, but now I feel the pressure is off, I don't need to finish by December.

      Delete
    8. Sounds great. Now I can spend even more time thinking about books... which I love to do.

      Delete

Post a Comment