Dress Down Sunday: working upside down with lace



Wintle’s Wonders by Noel Streatfeild


published 1957


LOOKING AT WHAT GOES ON UNDER THE CLOTHES



wintle's wonders 3



Under their uniforms the Wonders wore plain matching knickers, but for this special occasion something frilly had been thought right. So one of the Wonders had lent frilly lace-edged nylon knickers and a matching petticoat, a set which her mother had seen advertised as: ‘How would your daughter like to look like a little ballerina? Then why not buy her these matching panties and petticoat.’

As Hilary turned a cartwheel exactly what the advertisement meant was made clear, for as Hilary turned over only a froth of lace and frills showed. The Wonders watcher her with professional approval.

‘Couldn’t be better,’ said Alice, ‘I always say there’s nothing to touch lace if you’re working upside down.’

 
commentary: Another post on this book – see earlier one for panto season here. (The book is also published under the name Dancing Shoes.)

Many of the plot features are standard to Streatfeild’s theatrical books. Rachel and Hilary have come to live with an aunt and cousin at a stage school. The cousin, Dulcie, is a spoilt madam of a princess, but also a very talented child performer, while Hilary too is a very good dancer. Now, Rachel has no inclination that way, but she is quite certain of something: Hilary should be a proper ballet dancer, at the Royal Ballet – she should not be doing cartwheels and high kicks for Mrs Wintle. Rachel is also the classic child who doesn’t suit the frilly frocks and babyish costumes of the Wintle’s Wonders. If only someone could find her real talent, and find the clothes and styles that will suit her…

Well no surprises here – the right items turn up, and very satisfyingly she

 
SPOILER

 
…whisks a thoughtful acting part away from the not-intellectual Dulcie, and a highly enjoyable moment it is too.

But there are some unexpected notes. Given this plot, the intelligent reader of children’s fiction of the time would assume two things – that Dulcie would get her come-uppance and also turn out not to be that successful after all. But it is clear, and emphasized, that Dulcie IS talented and will be successful, a big star – the role that Rachel half-inches from her wasn’t right for her anyway. And in addition, Hilary is not going to be better than Dulcie, is not going to fulfil her dying mother’s wish that she be a ballet dancer, and tells Rachel she’d rather just be part of a chorus lineup and then get married and have children.

This is pretty much unprecedented in children’s fiction of the day, I would say. This was a dying wish! Dulcie is wicked! Hilary is very talented and could be a big star!

None of it matters. Quel surprise.

As I said last time, the book is funny too. Most Streatfeild books have a Nanny figure: this one is Miss Pursey who inherits a house because one of her former charges is eaten by a shark.
‘A shark! Just fancy, and him an Honourable too.’
Miss Pursey shook her head. ‘No respecter of persons, sharks aren’t.’
In the scene above, Hilary is going to take part in a talent contest, doing a skit of a child star’s day. It could be Dulcie, but nothing could be more appropriate than the cutout doll’s clothes above, which are – of course – Shirley Temple’s.

‘Nothing to touch lace if you’re working upside down’ – what a great line.















Comments

  1. I actually really like that more realistic way in which things work out in this story, Moira. There's something appealing about that to me. And wit, when it's done well, can leaven a book nicely. And, as an aside, I love that advert for the matching panties and petticoat!

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    1. Streatfeild has a great combination of fairytale stories, and a real down-to-earthiness: such a winning way of writing. She really knows her stuff. And in my view, Shirley Temple is never a bad idea...

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  2. Brilliant post and I discover that I practically know the book off by heart. For instance, Hilary finally gets her film role (in 'Flotsam') by saying the line 'My name's Vera - Vera Valiant they call me. It was after the ship that found me...'
    Dulcie and her mother are monstrously brilliant creations, and my only criticism of the book is that Dulcie's father is quite unbelievably sensitive and kind; an improbable good egg in a family of vast egos. The illustrations from it are ace as well...

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    1. Yes I agree - the father doesn't make sense, either as the husband/father of those two or as someone who won't make a real stand to help Rachel.
      But what a great book... Actually, THIS was one I took out the library as often as I could find it, I can see the cover now. It felt like my own special discovery, not famous like Ballet Shoes, no-one else had read it...(except the others who borrowed it from the library so it wasn't always there.)

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  3. Just want to add that Streatfield was very good at writing the non-talented child in a family of geniuses: Rachel in this, Jayne in The Painted Garden, Myra in Apple Bough. As a child, depending on mood, you could identify with either the 'ordinary' one or the star...

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    1. Yes indeed, she was very good at that, despite also writing very well about being the talented child. And she does overtly (have someone)say at the end of Ballet Shoes 'I wonder which of us other children would like to be?' Oh I was such a Petrova.
      Lissa have you ever read the Whicharts, the very strange adult version of Ballet Shoes? Quite disconcerting, but something of a must-read for completists.

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  4. Ooh no, and I've just checked and it's in the London Libary!

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    1. Good. I think it is almost unique in that you can see all the roots of Ballet Shoes, but it is very much a grownup and rather risqué book.

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  5. Oh God, I've mixed up Rachel and Hilary in both comments, after patting myself on the back for 'knowing the book off by heart'. Hubris.

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    1. You only did it once - we're all allowed that...

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  6. This sounds very interesting with the touches of reality.

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    1. YES - strange combination but a good one.

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