The Diary of a Young Lady of Fashion 1764/65supposedly by Cleone Knox, actually by Madeleine King-Hall
LOOKING AT WHAT GOES ON UNDER THE CLOTHES
June 25th 1764
Supper party last night given in my honour by Lord M to console me, so he declared, for my recent highway robbery. A large Company present. All extremely Lively. Lord M no eyes for anyone but me. He wrote my name on his wine glass with a diamond and then to my vast confusion pulled off my red satin slipper, filled it with wine, and drank my Health from it. This extravagance agitated me and seeing that most of the company were intoxicated, I pulled Ned to one side and made him escort me home.
This morning received a note from Lord M as follows. “Lord M----rd’s Compliments to Miss Knox. Hopes she was not Offended last night? What was the reason for her sudden departure which robbed the Party of its Chief Grace? He begs her to send him one of her Chemises, for he has vowed not the drink another drop of Wine that has not been strained through a Piece of her Underlinen.”
This strange message somewhat Disconcerted me. For some time could not decide whether he was rally madly Enamoured or merely insulting me. At length I decided that a bantering reply would be the most discreet under the circumstances, and I sent a line to the effect that Irish Lawn was too precious by far to be used as a Sieve.
commentary: In the past I have written about books I borrowed from the library over and over in my teenage years, and this one really should have been on that list: it was a great favourite of mine. It was recently pushed back into my consciousness by my friend Lissa Evans: she had come across several books by this author in the London Library and photographed them and put them up on Twitter:
- with the tagline Four King Hall.
Taking our accustomed (actually not) roles as the good girl and the bad girl at school, I assumed she was praising these lovely old books, while actually she was making a COARSE JOKE. Lissa, Lissa. (I did laugh a lot when I realized.)
ANYWAY, the upshot was - of course - that I raced off to order a copy of The Diary of a Young Lady to re-read it. And it is still tremendous fun.
The backstory is fascinating and charming. Madeleine King-Hall, a young lady of the 1920s, constructed this fake diary, pretending she had found it among ancestral papers in a castle in Ireland. It was published, and many people were completely taken in, saying it was a valuable addition to the scholarly knowledge of the era. Eventually she felt obliged to reveal the truth, with attendant minor scandal. It is reprinted every so often, and always worth a look.
Cleone Knox, the diary’s author, is a most enjoyable character, in love with the Wrong Man, carried off by her family from Ireland to a tour of England and Europe to take her mind off him. She is young and silly and rich – something of a Georgette Heyer heroine (Heyer started writing her romances around the same time, many from this Georgian era before she settled for the Regency period), but with a touch of the knowing, more modern, Philippa Gregorys.
There are fake footnotes from the imaginary editor of the diary, which add to the entertainment value:
*The editor has here deleted two closely written pages in the same strain. The rapturous priggishness of this period of the 18the century with regard to nature is too well known to need further comment.Cleone is in fact mostly describing not nature but her clothes, and the gossip and young men who surround her, and it is all great fun.
It reminded me somewhat of the Visits of Elizabeth, an early work (1901) from the scandalous writer Elinor Glyn.
And just to lower the tone, here’s a passage from Hilary Mantel’s magisterial Wolf Hall (much featured on the blog).
Thomas Cromwell asks the potboy in a Calais inn what they have to eat:
‘Pottage. I wouldn't recommend it. It looks like what's left when a whore's washed her shift.’
‘I never knew the Calais girls to wash anything.'
La chemise enlevée (The Shirt Withdrawn) is by Jean Honore Fragonard, circa 1770, from the Athenaeum website.
The chemise dates from the third quarter of the18th century: it is French, made of linen and is in the NY Metropolitan Museum.
The portrait, also from the Athenaeum, is from 1763 and is by Alexander Roslin of his wife Marie Suzanne. It was very hard to find a young woman whom I thought resembled Cleone in the book: this was the nearest I got.