Three Sisters Flew Home by Mary Fittpublished 1936
[A New Year’s Eve party: Claribel is the hostess, and three new guests, sisters, have arrived]
The door of the street opened. The three sisters were inside.
The company looked on as at a play, while the three sisters half-encircled [Claribel]. They already wore their party frocks, and their petal-like skirts flowed down to the toes of their satin shoes. Each wore a different colour: Ursula, the eldest, wore the colour called petunia, and Theresa, the youngest, wore lime-green, but Lucy had on her favourite shade of blue, the colour of certain cinerarias. Ursula and Theresa wore slippers that matched their frocks; but Lucy’s slippers were cardinal red. It was a pleasure to see their satin toes peeping out from under the folds of their frocks, and it reminded everybody at once of the poem, and they felt gay and cheerful.
comments: Kate Jackson looked at this book on her Cross-Examining Crime blog earlier in the year, and as it sounded intriguing, and perfect for a seasonal entry, I got hold of a copy. It is set entirely at a New Year’s Eve party, Kate reckons over 8 hours: an excellent conceit. There is a game of Murder which starts up and stops over the course of the evening, so I think most readers will be confident which way this is going. Fitt builds up some tension of when and who and by whom… to a certain extent.
I enjoyed the book, though maybe not as much as Kate did: it was cleverly constructed and kept the onward thrust going. It must have been quite shocking in its day, with some unconventional relationships around.
This is from the blurb:
Not every woman can collect her dethroned lovers and their wives into one room… Things happened at her parties. But having given her party, having collected her bevy of expectant friends, having displayed her three mysterious lovelies, it was painfully bad tactics to make them play a murder game. All sorts of curious things were liable to happen when one let loose such a motley throng in a darkened house…Which is a fair enough description.
While I’m looking at the cover: Mary Fitt’s author bio is one of the most pretentious I have ever read:
‘It was the vast and pleasant study of mankind that set my feet on the roads he had travelled and sent me to the places where he has resided…. And as Man is the measure of all things I have [studied] his philosophy, his poetry, the works of his hands – and his villainy.’I didn’t like the very snobbish tone of the book: ‘A servants’ fire! They were always the best.’ Nor did I like the way Fitt told you what to think of every single character, we were never allowed to make up our own minds. But still – I could never hate a book based at a posh 1930s party, especially one with characters including a dashing explorer and lost royalty. It held its own kind of fun.
And, when I started to look for pictures, I came across an eye-popping line at Kristine’s photostream, one that I am surprised never to have seen before. The pictures were taken by Madame Yevonde, a noted society photographer of the era, and show women dressed up for a Greek-gods-and-goddesses-themed party held in March 1935. They seemed perfect for the three beautiful and mysterious sisters…. their whole story has overtones of three witches, three Graces, three Fates. (But the photos were so beautiful I had to use more than three.) The whole book is forever threatening to take off into a kind of mysticism.
Colour photos did exist but were vanishingly rare at this date – at first I thought these might have been colorized, but no (too perfect for that), they were created using the Vivex Carboro Process. They are astonishing aren’t they?
What is the poem with the feet? Can anyone tell me?
**** Added later: very helpful suggestions and discussions in the comments - I knew my readers would be knowledgeable! And I found the reference in Dorothy L Sayers' Busman's Honeymoon:
Greek gods and goddesses theme party, March 5th, 1935
Lady Anne Rhys poses as the goddess Flora.
Baroness Gagern as Europa.
Gertrude Lawrence as the Muse of Comedy.
Mary Viscountess Ratendone as Euterpe.
Nadine Countess of Shrewsbury as Ariadne.
Back in 2014 I did a blogpost based on Peter Quennell’s life, and I remembered using a picture (above) of Diana Mitford (at the time married to Bryan Guinness, late to become Oswald Mosley’s wife) at a fancy dress party in classical dress - it’s here on the blog. I had high hopes it would turn out to be the same party, but is not - three years earlier and Roman not Greek.
What a great setting and context for a story, Moira. Anything can happen at a party like that... It might not have been all you were hoping for in a book, but it does sound as though you found things to like about it. And those clothes descriptions seem quite well-done.ReplyDelete
I enjoyed, but very much as a seasonal treat. I've read a couple of books by Fitt now: she is very serious! But the whole thing would have been worth it because of finding that collection of photos. Happy New Year to you and yours Margot.Delete
Her feet beneath her petticoat, like little mice, crept in and out?ReplyDelete
Thanks Lucy, that certainly sounds like it - though see also below! Very happy to have two poems...Delete
Doesn't Lord Peter Wimsey quote that to Harriet Vane somewhere? (Busman's Honeymoon?) It would somehow be rather neat if the same (Victorian?) poem was alluded to in two different Golden Age detective stories.Delete
Thanks Birgitta! And see above - your comment really rang bells with me, so tracked it down.Delete
I'm reading this book for the first week of January. You beat me to it! Free poetry allusion service: "Red Slippers" by Amy Lowell. I'm sure that it's the red shoes that reminded them of the poem. I could be wrong. But look up the poem for yourself: https://poets.org/poem/red-slippersReplyDelete
It's a rare moment when I've managed to read a book ahead of you lol Interested to see what you make of this book.Delete
Thanks John - I had never come across that poem before, it is excellent and certainly a good candidate. Like Kate I will be looking forward to hearing your opinions on the book.Delete
Kate: at first I thought you meant you were surprised to have read a book I hadn't, and I was puzzled as it is so much the other way round! But then I realized you meant John, and totally agree!
Wonderful start to the new year, thanks. I love the thought of her little feet, like mice; sounds enticingly familiar. I looked up both poems, and either works, I think.ReplyDelete
Meanwhile, a party with a dashing explorer and lost royalty! Count me in. And a new-to-me word for the new year.... the colour of certain cinerarias. Oh! It's a flower. Lovely.
Thanks Susan, and Happy New Year! Isn't it nice when people come up with the answers on the poems - and two is better than one. And yes - what could be more sophisticated and glamorous. I feel with the right evening dress I could fit right in ;)Delete
My first thought when I read this was that of course I would get it and read it next year. But then I looked at prices and decided I will keep looking because the prices are all higher than I can afford. I am not even sure I would like the book that much, but like you said, perfect for New Year's and I had missed Kate's post so wasn't aware of it.ReplyDelete
Off topic, but... I started reading Wolf Hall a couple of days ago. I love it. I am sure I am not understanding a lot of it because I am remiss in knowledge of history. Plus following some of the story as it shifts back and forth in time is challenging. Thus I am reading it slowly and savoring it.
Wow the price of this book has really shot up since I bought my copy! Must be Moira's review which has pushed up the price lolDelete
I just looked up how much I paid when I looked for it (after seeing it on Kate's blog) - it was at the top end of what I will pay for a book, but it has gone up since then. I think we will blame Kate rather than me!Delete
Tracy, I think the Hilary Mantel books will reward your efforts. I am so excited about the 3rd book coming out this year, I have the date in my diary.
Amazing photos. I thought they were contemporary photos who had been photo shopped in some way to look older.ReplyDelete
Thanks Bill - I know! They are both amazingly beautiful, and almost uncanny in looking out of their time...Delete
Probably one I can avoid without feeling like I'm missing out. Agree with Bill regarding some of the photos.ReplyDelete
Yep - no-one can resist the photos. But - come for the photos, don't stay for the book in your case!Delete