Mourning Mopup

Still More Mourning in Books (and in real life)

 





I was delighted to find that so many readers shared my fascination with mourning, so much so that this is the sixth post on the topic. Commenters made many, many excellent additions to the list, so do read the comments at the end of, particularly, this post.

I’m going to mop up leftovers from my collection of mourning quotes, then list some of the great contributions from readers.

In terms of when mourning ended, Agatha Christie (as ever) helps with sociological detail. In They Do it With Mirrors, published 1952, young Gina – posh but wild, and dressed in scarlet and green -  says she won’t dress in mourning:  I hate black. I think it’s hideous… and [the dead man] wasn’t really a relation.

You can read the blogpost featuring the scene here.

There’s an Elizabeth Daly character who – in the 1944 The Book of the Dead – is described like this: A conventional woman – she had already acquired the outward signs of mourning; not, of course, her black suit and hat, her black shoes, but her fine black stockings and short black-bordered veil

I think the implication is that the black suit and hat would be normal wear.




Hat with veil – from Clover Vintage. Veil not really hiding much.

In Patricia Wentworth’s The Gazebo, 1955, no mercy is shown to the awful sisters Lily and Mabel:

Her black kid gloves were too tight for her plump hands, and both she and Mabel had put on black coats and hats in order to visit a house of mourning. The garments were those usually reserved for funerals. They had the air of never having been in fashion, and they smelled powerfully of mothball.

(Blogpost here on other aspects of the book.)

 

Blogfriend and Trollope-fan Marty, reminded me of ‘the Widow Greenow of "Can You Forgive Her?".  “There's a nice long paragraph devoted to her mourning wear, beginning "The widow looked almost gorgeous in her weeds" and later saying that she obeyed the letter of the mourning law, but had "thrown the spirit of it to the winds."

You can find my blogpost on the widow here – I really liked her character.

Can You Forgive Her? by Anthony Trollope (clothesinbooks.blogspot.com)

 


And of course – how could I have missed this out initially? – there is Gone with the Wind, and here’s a marvellous description from an anonymous commenter:

 

And then there's the famous Civil War dance in Gone With the Wind. "Here [Scarlett] sat like a crow with hot black taffeta to her wrists and buttoned up to her chin, with not even a hint of lace or braid, not a jewel except Ellen’s onyx mourning brooch, watching tacky-looking girls hanging on the arms of good-looking men. All because Charles Hamil­ton had had the measles. He didn’t even die in a fine glow of gallantry in battle, so she could brag about him." Scarlett's fate is about to change, much to the shock and disapproval of the Confederate ladies and gentlemen. Oh, it's a cringeworthy book, and glamorizes the South and the happy slaves and the Lost Cause; but you must allow that I was 12 or so when I read it, at the urging of my mom, who read it at a similarly dreamy and uncritical age. My daughter didn't.


 

 

In Barbara Pym’s A Glass of Blessings, published in 1958, narrator Wilmet asks her friend Mary – who has just lost her mother – an important question:

‘Shall you wear black?’ I asked. ‘I hadn’t realized that people wore mourning very much these days.’ I could remember my own mother mourning her father’s death in black, then grey, and finally mauve; she had had a lilac summer coat which seemed much too pretty to be mourning.



[Not quite mourning but I enjoyed this comment after the funeral in the book: ‘She’s got cold standing here,’ she said, ‘though I did put a rug over her.’ My mind boggled as to which character this was getting cold, but it turned out to be a car. There is then a discussion on whether the rug might have been stolen during the service: ‘I had heard that they came from Leamington and wondered whether people were more honest there.’]

Sovay told us this: Lady-in-Waiting Frederica Budd in Anthony Powell’s 'A Dance to the Music of Time' buying black dresses in the sales because there are so many elderly royals that a few of them are bound to drop off the books soon and plunge the whole court into mourning.

And she also shared this: The outward show of grief is an important plot point in 'The Grand Sophy' by Georgette Heyer, if I remember rightly - the hero is engaged to the wrong woman and would be married to her if a relative of hers hadn't died, but fortunately the wedding can't take place as long as the fiancee is in black gloves. This allows time for him to come to his senses ...

And she also gave this interesting perception: The First World War (and Spanish flu during and immediately after it) is supposed to have brought about the end of Victorian-style mourning customs, simply because of the number of casualties - practically every family in Europe and beyond would have been in mourning for years.

A real-life instance came from Clare, who says:

Two previous Dutch queens stipulated that the women attending their funeral services should wear white: Queen Wilhelmina and her daughter Queen Juliana. Apparently it's too much to ask men to do so. Wilhelmina and Juliana were religious women, and believed they were going to a better life. For pictures see:
https://blauwbloed.eo.nl/royaltynieuws/koninklijke-uitvaarten-wit

 

And more royals – Susanna Tayler told us this:

The Queen Mother, when she was Queen Elizabeth, had an entire white mourning wardrobe made for her by Norman Hartnell in summer 1938. Her mother had died just before a planned state visit to France . Apparently it was considered extremely chic.

Is this the end of my obsession with mourning? I have hugely enjoyed writing all these posts, and hearing from so many people: I expect this will all come up again in future, I will continue to save quotes...

Thanks everyone who read the posts and commented here and online.

 

Comments

  1. It’s a fascinating topic, and I’m pleased to have been able to contribute!
    The “Glass of Blessings” reference reminded me that it seems to have been OK for even the well-to-do to have old clothes dyed black for mourning wear, rather than buying new – Mary plans to have a dress dyed, though Wilmet rather turns her nose up at the idea. Mrs Brandon (in Angela Thirkell’s “The Brandons”) does the same, though who actually ends up wearing the dyed dress I can’t remember – there’s a lot of dress-swapping before the funeral - however I am sure that there’s mention of a special speedy service by the dyers if one tells them it’s for mourning.
    Sovay

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    1. That definitely started coming back to me from The Brandons, the rondine of the mourning clothes - I must reread that book.
      And yes, dyeing (the pun has only just occurred to me) was a feature and would be interesting to investigate that further. There is so much to discover in this area, I feel I could go on forever!

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    2. It would be an ideal opportunity to break out the hat paint too!
      Sovay

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    3. That made me laugh out loud! But good point

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  2. Just read this In Sheila Pim's Creeping Venom (1946) set in rural Ireland: 'Meriel was looking 'smashing' that morning ... A search for something that was right for the funeral and for the heat wave had ended in a little black afternoon frock and a small sophisticated black hat, in which she looked like somebody else, but one even more glamorous than her usual attractive self.' Others too conjure up mourning from something they already have. Chrissie

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    1. was that the book you are going to pass on to me? I hope so! People must have thought about it as they planned their wardrobe? I mean, did you think 'I'll order a black dress, then if someone dies I'll be ready...' as well as the other way round - 'this one will come in handy afterwards, can still be worn out of mourning'.
      As I say above, endlessly fascinating!

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    2. A different one by the same author, but this one is good, too. Do you think people perhaps wore quite a lot of black anyway?

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    3. I think maybe the older generation wore more black - bright colours less suitable for an older respectable lady, and I suppose widowhood common, and perhaps people emulating Queen Victoria, who never came out of mourning for Prince Albert.

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  3. Thank you for doing this, Moira. I find the whole sociological phenomenon of mourning clothes to be so interesting. All the customs that go along with mourning are, in my opinion, just as interesting. And there are so many examples of how that plays out in fiction.

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    1. Thanks Margot, and yes indeed - of course if we read a lot of crime fiction, there'll be deaths, and mourning is going to crop up in older books! As you say, full of interest in various directions.

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  4. The magazine spread is quite thought-provoking – four months after the beginning of the Somme offensive, there must have been so many people NOT thinking about mourning as a "fine art" ...
    Sovay

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    1. Two things first - as I was checking back on this image, an advert came up offering me cheap funerals in my area. My cookie trail is obviousy working only too well!
      And I realized I hadn't put in the link to this picture, so have now added that.

      It is called 'English mourning' but otherwise I would have assumed it was from American Vogue: I have not reached a conclusion on that. USA didn't enter the war till 1917.
      However, I think the tone was a touch tasteless for either country: 'the laws of mourning... in black and white' sounds like a dark joke they came up with in the office and should have left in the air....

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    2. I did wonder whether it might be American and therefore, as you suggest, slightly less insensitive. I wouldn’t say it’s really aimed at the recently bereaved/genuinely mourning, in any case – perhaps of interest to those who have lost an aged aunt (and been well remembered in her will) rather than a beloved husband?
      Sovay

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    3. I think you are writing your own novel there, Sovay, and it will be excellent. I am already picturing young - how about Esme as a name - whose mother is saying 'no darling you really must wear something black for Aunt Mabel' while Esme sulks because longing to wear her her new fashionable silver dress.

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  5. “The Grand Sophy” has just sparked a memory of a similar issue in “Death in the Stocks”, also by Georgette Heyer – though in that instance the fianc√©’s response, when asked whether his wedding will be delayed until he comes out of mourning [for the murder victim, his half-brother], is that it won’t because he has no intention of going INTO mourning!
    Sovay

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    1. Georgette Heyer did have her moments. I am already thinking I must reread The Grand Sophy, do I need to add Death in the Stocks to the pile too?

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