[Nouveau riche Mrs Tote arrives at the houseparty]
A very expensive fur coat having been shed, there appeared a wispy little woman rather like a mouse, with scant grey hair twisted up into a straggly knot behind. Do her hair any other way than she had done it ever since she grew up Mrs Tote would not. She brushed it neatly , and she put in plenty of pins. It wasn’t her fault if the fur turban that went with the coat was so heavy that it dragged the hair down. She hadn’t wanted the fur turban. She would have liked a nice neat matron’s hat in one of those light felts like she used to get when they had their business in Clapham, before Albert made all that money. The turban made her head ache, like a lot of the things that had happened since they got rich, She would have been glad to take it off like that Miss Lane had done with hers, pulling it off careless, and her hair all shining waves underneath. She liked to see a girl with a nice head of hair, and fair hair paid for dressing. Nice to be able just to pull off your hat like that and feel sure that you were all right underneath. But of course not suitable at her age, and the hairpins dropping out like they always did all the way down in the car.
observations: What a treasure trove this book was – full of items related to recent Clothes in Books preoccupations, starting of course with its being a 1949 book and thus post-war – references to war knitting (in khaki) and black market adventures and free education. There are many outfits that could have been featured – the pink frilled negligee, the bad blue dinner dress and the good black one. But as soon as I saw the reference to the fur turban I knew this had to be it. Fur turban - just the sound of the words is wonderful. Fur turban. Fur turban. Sorry, maybe it’s just me
Other features include a character called Linnet – I did a list of these recently and the kindly @lisaTBR313 came up with this one in a tweet:
Lisa May @LisaTBR313 · Apr 11Linnet - an older woman, not the heroine - is an interesting character. In the midst of all the usual Wentworth trappings and the annoying Miss Silver, there is a really heart-wrenching piece of writing, as Linnet thinks about some bad times in her past:
@ClothesinBooks I found another Linnet for your list, Linnet Oakley in Patricia Wentworth's Spotlight, aka The Wicked Uncle.
For years she had never let herself think about that time… but the dreadful sordid memories came crowding into her mind. It was like having a lot of dirty tramps in her nice clean house. They went everywhere, and did just what they liked. They had kept her awake in the night, and when she slept they had walked in and out of her dreams.I thought that was an impressively real description of bad thoughts and memories.
Also above there is ‘paid for dressing’ – used in another Wentworth book featured recently, and provoking an inconclusive look at what exactly the phrase means.
The felt hat Mrs Tote really wanted is, I’m betting, something like the one the blog gave Margery Sharp’s heroine Julia (from the other direction, in a manner of speaking) in The Nutmeg Tree – ‘Matron’s Model’:
I’m a bit worried about all the luminous paint knocking round in this book – let’s hope it wasn’t the highly poisonous stuff from not many years before.
There is, and I think this must surely be unique in all crime fiction, a theory that a suspect who seemed to have been upstairs when the victim died, might have slid down the bannisters in order to get to the spot on time. This isn’t pursued much, but it is rather a startling image. [ADDED LATER: But see comment from Noah Stewart below - apparently there does exist a book where sliding down the bannisters is key...]
There seems to be a mistake in the timings of the busy day when Dorinda nearly gets arrested for shop-lifting, buys the luminous paint, and manages to find the good black dinner dress – the shop incident clearly must have happened before midday, but later we hear reports of its being planned, and ‘between 12 and 1’ is repeated several times. But by then she is having lunch, so that we can be charmed with this sentence:
Gratitude made Dorinda’s eyes look exactly like peat-water with the sun on it.There is a reference to someone ‘not being a brother’ which is unexpectedly reminiscent of Emma (in Jane Austen’s book) having a conversation with Mr Knightley. Just in case you wondered who Dorinda was going to end up with.
And I am going, yet again, to recommend this fascinating article on Patricia Wentworth and Miss Silver, by blogfriend Noah Stewart.
Finding a picture of a fur turban was disappointingly difficult. One of those above is actually described as a fur turban (you can just see the words) but doesn’t look much like one to me.
Top picture is from the Ladies Home Journal of 1948.
Fur turban. Mmm.