Lucia in Mourning

 

Mapp and Lucia  by EF Benson

published 1931

 


[excerpt] Gradually, and in increasing areas, grey and white and violet invaded the unrelieved black in which she had spent the year of her widowhood; one day she wore a white belt, another there were grey panels in her skirt, another her garden-hat had a violet riband on it.

Even Georgie, who had a great eye for female attire, could not accurately follow these cumulative changes: he could not be sure whether she had worn a grey cloak before, or whether she had had white gloves in church last Sunday. Then, instead of letting her hair droop in slack and mournful braids over her ears, it resumed its old polished and corrugated appearance, and on her pale cheeks (ashen with grief) there bloomed a little brown rouge, which made her look as if she had been playing golf again, and her lips certainly were ruddier. It was all intensely exciting, a series of subtle changes at the end of which, by the middle of July, her epiphany in church without anything black about her, and with the bloom of her vitality quite restored, passed almost unremarked…

The hounds of spring were on the winter traces of her widowhood, and snapped up every fragment of it, and indeed spring seemed truly to have returned to her, so various and so multi-coloured were the blossoms that were unfolding. Never at all had Riseholme seen Lucia in finer artistic and intellectual fettle, and it was a long time since she had looked so gay. The world, or at any rate Riseholme, which at Riseholme came to much the same thing, had become her parish again.

 

 


comments: A blogpost from ten years ago explains a lot about the Mapp and Lucia books and has links to some other relevant entries. (eg Quaint Irene was, of course, one of my trouser-wearing women for a past Guardian article).

And someone kindly reminded me of this (Please tell me who it was, so I can give you credit), fitting in beautifully with our recent theme of mourning clothes, a wonderful description of Lucia rebuilding her life after being widowed. It is clear that one year is the key date here – she won’t even consider getting back to normal life and clothes until the first anniversary has passed. But then she can sit in her garden wearing a straw hat with a big black bow of crepe. Now, I couldn’t decide if this was a black hat or a straw-coloured hat? Not clear from context. But then I found this great picture and decided to use it anyway – no contest.



This is probably the best of the six Lucia books (though they are all very enjoyable) and it is packed with incident – learning Italian, callisthenics, the move by Lucia from Riseholme to Tilling. Also two separate pageant affairs – an Elizabethan one in Riseholme, and historical tableaux in Tilling. And, this is the book with lobster a la Riseholme, and the adventure with the kitchen table. Joy from start to finish.



Another Lucia book featured in the very early days of the blog, Lucia in Trouble. And there is a non-Lucia book by Benson here - one that I surprisingly did not enjoy at all.

 A lady in black by Francis Cadell

The 1920s fashion drawing is actually called  La promeneuse mélancolique - NYPL Digital Collections

and also Les cinq sens le gout - NYPL Digital Collections

Women dressed as Tudor queens, 1930s, from the wonderful Sam Hood collection at the State Library of NSW.

Comments

  1. I'm not the one that reminded you of Lucia, though I did think of her in relation to mourning, particularly the point about mourning genuinely but also with an eye to making the best effect - at the beginning of this book she's waiting for Daisy Quantock to drop in and plans to be "discovered" reading one of her late husband's poems, but unfortunately they're in an artsy-craftsy binding that ties up with tape and she can't unravel the knot ...

    If you did fancy trying another of Benson's non-Lucia books any time, I'd recommend "Secret Lives" - one of the main characters, Susan Legg, makes a cameo appearance in "Trouble for Lucia".
    Sovay

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    1. Oh yes, Benson has such an eye for the details of life, and the tape she can't un-knot is perfect. Especially as she thinks she has got away with it, but Daisy did notice.
      Thanks for the recommendation, I will look that one up.

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    2. Christine Kendell29 May 2024 at 16:09

      A hilarious book - I especially like the callisthenics.

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    3. Mourning etiquette does its job though - Daisy doesn't rub Lucia's nose in the fact that her ruse has been spotted, which she probably would in other circumstances.

      What lovely illustrations! I'm not sure any of the residents of either Riseholme or Tilling could quite rise to the elegance of the Georges Barbier, though it could be Olga Bracely in mourning for that shadowy husband that I don't think we ever see. The Tudor queens are fabulous.
      Sovay

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    4. Christine: Yes indeed, the callisthenics are excellent. Also piano - we say uno, due, tre in our house, quoting from Lucia.

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    5. Sovay: good point about Daisy.
      I do think of Lucia as being rather elegant, though those pictures are top level!
      In an earlier post I was talking about a TV version, where the costume makers say they made any pageant-style costumes from old 1930s curtains, as that is what would have been used in Tilling/Riseholme. I loved this picture for suggesting the same! (No offence)

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    6. In my mind Lucia is certainly the best-dressed resident of Riseholme/Tilling (I should qualify that in deference to Georgie - the best-dressed FEMALE resident) but still a bit provincial - too high-minded to devote her full attention to clothes!

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    7. And curtains were my first thought in respect of the Tudor queens. I have a book on historic costume for the stage, published in the 1930s, which recommends upholstery fabrics over dress fabrics on the grounds that they're not only cheaper and easier to find in authentic patterns, but they also have the right weight and substance. Central queen could do with a bigger farthingale though.
      Sovay

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    8. Yes indeed, Georgie needs his credit. And after I said she was elegant - wasn't there a time when she cut out big flowers from upholstery chintz and sewed them onto her skirts...?
      That makes perfect sense about the curtains. And I love that you are critical of the middle queen. Don't you bet there was a lot of Riseholme/Tilling-style jostling for position and importance among those women in the photo, and maybe bitchy comments about each other's gowns...?

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    9. The cut-out flowers was Diva (Mapp then stole the idea, uncredited, and there was much trouble); lots of small flowers, applied so that they appeared to be woven into the background - Benson can have had no idea how much slow and painstaking needlework that would involve!

      Queen Elizabeth at front and centre is the only one who really looks satisfied with the arrangement - possibly all the others have been relegated to lady-in-waiting or Drake's wife.

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    10. Yes, indeed it all comes back to me, and yes not a realistic idea!
      I bet those queens would be delighted to know that we are looking closely at the photo 80 years later, and think it was only right.

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  2. Mourning clothes customs are so interesting, Moira! There's always seemed to be this period of a year before you can ease up on mourning clothes, and at least that before your name could be romantically linked with anyone else (well, not without scandal!). I particularly like the way her gradual shift to more everyday clothes shows how she's starting to come back to life.

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    1. Indeed, Margot. Doing all this reading about it, you could see that it made life difficult for some people - but it also offered protection for some people (others knew they were bereaved, and shouldn't be asked for too much) and gave people a timetable, rules, which can help.

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  3. Brilliant idea and perfect quotes. I love these books. Have you read any of the continuations? One by Tom Holt and two by Guy Fraser-Sampson. Tom Holt did it better, IMO.

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    1. Thank you! I haven't read followups - I tend not to enjoy continuations, but if you recommend I am willing to try.

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    2. While Mapp and Lucia is, for me, the best book in the series, the fact that there were two books starring Lucia and one dominated by Miss Mapp beforehand was probably responsible for it being so effective as the author had a solid backstory for his characters. Perhaps a 1930s equivalent of the King Kong Vs Godzilla films.
      This is a book where I saw the 1980s TV series before I read the books. Admirable casting, including the supporting characters. Geraldine McEwan and Prunella Scales were clearly having a lot of fun.
      As a sign of an easily distracted mind, there is a 1960 B film called No Kidding in which Geraldine McEwan played Leslie Phillips's wife, with Joan Hickson cast as a drunken cook and a very young Francesca Annis as a schoolgirl. The fact that both Hickson and McEwan would later play Miss Marple merely made the experience of watching the film on a DVD more surreal.

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    3. Yes indeed, series characers getting together isn't always a great idea, but I think in this case it was alchemic magic. And I remember that series well: it was excellent.
      I am agog about No Kidding and will have to try to find it, maybe Talking Pictures TV will show it. I am smiling just thinking about that combination.

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    4. I've just ordered the DVD from Amazon! It sounds like a hoot and I think will make perfect watching some lazy afternoon. thanks for the tipoff

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