[from the book] Whereas Rietta Cray was in a short brown tweed skirt and an old sweater of natural wool, both very well-worn, Catherine looked as if everything she had on had been most carefully chosen. There was nothing that was not suitable, but the general effect was that everything was a little too new. She might have taken part just as she was in the mannequin parade of some house which specialized in country clothes. The grey tweed coat and skirt were perfectly cut. The jumper of a paler shade, displayed the very latest neckline, her smart brogues the very latest heel.
comments: We have had this discussion on country tweeds before: notably in Agatha Christie’s The Moving Finger, where Joanna thinks she has the right clothes for the country, but doesn’t, and Megan arouses in Jerry this splendid line about her rough country clothes: ‘It just infuriates me to see you so slack’.
And then there is Rosamond Lehman’s marvellous Echoing Grove where the two sisters can always be relied on to dress differently: ‘well-cut old tweeds’ versus slacks. And another outing for a picture I like very much, click on the link to see it…
The Nancy Mitford girls in Pursuit of Love (author and book all over the blog) wear stiff Scotch tweeds ‘so different from supple French flattering ones’ with hand-knitted jumpers to ‘go with, not match’. (quoted also in the blogpost on Kate Atkinson’s Transcription, as a demonstration of the ubiquity of home-made woollies.) In the later Don’t Tell Alfred by Mitford, Grace – Nancy’s mouthpiece – says again that French tweeds are prettier. It is quite clear that the British ones are country tweeds, and the French ones are high fashion.
And by the way, the two women in the boat are how I imagine any two Mitford sisters looked on their way to the remote Scottish island where their mother had moved to.
In Ngaio Marsh’s Scales of Justice, one of her most excruciatingly snobbish books, there is Kitty trying and failing: in a tweed suit, high heels and embroidered gloves, ‘I,’ Kitty added, ‘wore a check skirt and a twin set’ to play golf ‘Madly county, you know’. Not a hope of fitting in.
And one of the very first CiB blog entries has Miss Marple ‘not wanting to be snobbish’ (yeah right) about tweeds versus party dress, and the class indicators therein.
The ‘house’ above, by the way, is a house of fashion (as posh designers were pretentiously known), in case it isn’t clear.
And there is yet more class contrast in this book – A character called Fancy (good-hearted but common) wears a scarlet suit which is really not quite quite. Making it clear that she is not right for the very eligible male hero, Carr (all these names are typically Wentworth-ian)
The book is a good one, with some slightly more varied characters than normal and some good swerves and twists. It is none the worse for being about slightly older women than the normal key figures in Wentworth books: Rietta and Catherine are cousins who have history with a man – but it IS history, the broken engagement for once was a long time ago. The man concerned has come back to the village where the two women have separately made their homes. It is clear which of them the reader is rooting for, but what happens next is wholly unpredictable (as is the question of who people end up with). There is a nice wide range of suspects, all of them behaving in ridiculous ways to draw attention and suspicion to themselves. There is a will subplot which is rather unusual and I found very compelling – although someone had behaved badly, and not quite honestly, one could sympathize with the horrible situation she found herself in, it was well done, and the details explained very clearly.
Mourning clothes are a frequent flyer in Miss Silver books, and here we have this excellent sentence:
‘the ensuing financial stringency had not prevented her from acquiring mourning garments of a most expensive and becoming nature.’
I often say that most Miss Silver books, among the predictable tropes, contain something unexpected and haunting. This one I had read 20 years ago but had no memory of, I thought. But on re-reading I came across a subplot concerning a woman who never actually appears, and realized I had remembered the rather bleak story and never been able to pin down where I read it. She is worthy of the lost women in the backgrounds of Jane Austen novels.
There are many Wentworth books on the blog – see label below – and also a blogpost in which I dared to send Miss Marple head to head with Miss Silver. Talk about the unbeatable force meeting the immoveable – but I greatly enjoyed writing it.
Plenty of nice tweed suit pictures, mostly from Kristine’s photostream, most of them definitely over-smart for the country, but I will leave it to the reader to assign them to correct and not-correct.
The older b/w pic is my goto picture to demonstrate how unflattering tweeds could be - this is silent movie star Dorothy Gish, demonstrably one of the most beautiful women of the early 20th C, looking pretty ordinary in her tweeds coat and skirt.