Friday, 9 October 2015

Step in the Dark by Ethel Lina White

published 1938

Step in the Dark

[Georgia, travelling in Europe, meets an interesting new family. One of them is a Count she likes the look of.]

Mrs Vanderpant—aunt to the Count—was the widow of a wealthy and distinguished American. She was accompanied by an impressive-looking scientist—Professor Malfoy—and a youth named “Clair”—both connections on the American side. They were installed in the most expensive suite, from whence issued the fateful invitation.

Georgia found herself stationary at the dinner-table.

She was on approval.

The meal was laid in the private sitting-room, which was a chill apartment with a vast expanse of waxed parquet flooring. Starched white net curtains hung at the three long windows, framing narrow slices of cobalt-blue night sky. The golden glow of candlelight was reflected in a large Regency mirror upon the wall.

Georgia could see herself in it—small and very fair, in a backless black dinner-gown. She always looked younger than her age, but tonight, in spite of her efforts at sophistication, she appeared too immature for her writing record.

She moved her head and her reflection vanished.

“I’ve gone inside,” she thought. “That mirror has swallowed so many faces—so many scenes.”

commentary: This is the fifth of my ‘box set’ of Ethel Lina White books, cheap on Kindle – see other entries. This is a comparatively weak one I would say, but still an enjoyable read. And it has a strange internal spiral about it: Georgia is a writer of thrillers, who gets caught up in a plot resembling something she might have invented. The writing of her books becomes a key part of what is going on… White was being pretty post-modern about it.

It is difficult to describe the plot without spoilering it. Georgia is a widow with two young daughters: she meets a potential new partner, the Count, and wonders what the future holds. They fall in love, and she goes with him to one of his homes – a remote island off the coast of Sweden. But then things start to go badly wrong.

White may have been playing with her audience a little – she is often associated with old dark houses, Gothic mansions, traditional villages. Here, most of the action takes place in an ultra-contemporary Swedish house:
It was light, airy and modern, with the minimum of metal furniture, spaced to resemble a stage-setting. There was evidence everywhere of Sweden's new movements in arts and crafts, demonstrated in delicate colouring and original designs.
What happens in this beautiful house is tense and creepy.

The daughters, Merle and Mavis, are nicely portrayed, quite refreshingly naughty and strange children. Georgia’s mother, Mrs Palfrey, is described as having a ‘relapse into unconventionality. She wore only a skirt and a handkerchief knotted around her neck and waist.’ I presume this gives more coverage than it sounds like – you can sort of see what she means, and they are at a beach cottage, but still….

Mind you, one of the best things about White (for me) is that she does describe people’s clothes, and they are often vaguely relevant, at least to suggest character. I liked this one:
She wore a rest-gown of petunia, patterned with blue poppies, in combination with purple-red lipstick and ultramarine eye shadow. Around her head was wound a swathe of chiffon …
The same character has another rest-gown, this time of filmy fuchsia and cyclamen, worn with long amethyst earrings.

As in her other books, the women are resourceful and independent-minded, and brave spinster ladies save the day.

This is not an essential read, but is a tension-filled entertainment. And I like Professor Malfoy, obviously about to go and take up a post at Hogwarts.

The picture, a 1930s evening dress, is from the Clover Tumblr.

Thursday, 8 October 2015

The Night in Question by Laurie Graham

published 2015

set in 1888

Night in Question 1Night in Question 2

[Dot Allbones has gone to look at a murder scene]

[The constable on duty tells her:] ‘This is a place of commerce, so after the hours of business very few people pass this way.’

One of the women said, ‘Except the type who met her end here.’

That riled me. I said, ‘And what type would that be?’

Valentine put his hand on my arm. He said, ‘My friend knew the person who was murdered.’

So then they became quite interested in me. Who was I, in my good serge coat and my velvet tam o’shanter, to know that type of person?

She said ‘Only one thing a woman’d be on the streets for at that hour.’

And the other said, ‘Yes. When decent folk are in their beds. They entice men into dark corners. This place is known for it.’

She pulled her shawl around her, very satisfied with herself and Valentine murmured, ‘Let it alone, Miss Dot. Don’t be upsetting yourself.’

Night in Question 4

commentary: I am a huge fan of Laurie Graham, and feel very strongly that she is an author who is not taken seriously enough just because she is funny and entertaining (just like Lissa Evans). Graham has written a wide variety of novels, but my favourites have been the ones where she takes real-life historical events and tells a story via a fictional character who might have existed… so the perfect example is her book about the Kennedy family, narrated by a nursemaid from the household. It’s called The Importance of Being Kennedy, and there were a couple of entries on the blog. She also wrote a startlingly good book about the 1930s Abdication Crisis, called Gone with the Windsors (already one of the great titles…).

This latest one I snapped up from Net Galley, ie a review copy, just because it was Laurie Graham. I could see it was a historical novel, but I knew nothing else about it. The heroine is classic Graham: a solid trouper in the music halls of Victorian times – she does comic songs and skits – living her life with quite a lot of past and an interesting present too.

Slowly we find out more about her and her friends and family, and her lodgings in the East End of London in the 1880s. Graham has an amazing ability to create a wholly convincing voice, and Dot Allbones appears before us fully formed.

I haven’t yet touched on a major part of the book – and that’s because I didn’t know about it beforehand, and that added hugely to my enjoyment, a slow realization of what the plot was about. Now, this isn’t meant to be a secret, and so it is not by any stretch of the imagination a spoiler to reveal it. Laurie Graham talks freely about it in this interview on the book, and it is mentioned in all the publicity. But if you really don’t want to know, stop reading now.


The book is about the Jack the Ripper crimes: the women murdered in a small area of London in 1888, and the perpetrator whose identity is still a mystery now. It’s spelled out on the cover of the book – and I actually think there’s a spoiler in the blurb on amazon. There is a name that is not mentioned until almost two-thirds of the way into the book (no – not Jack, the name of one of his victims).

It’s a chancy business trying to tell a warm-hearted, entertaining story about these crimes, but Graham – of course – pulls it off. She makes the women central to the story: the victims and their friends.  Possibly my favourite moment in the book – and one that sums up all these features – comes when Dot sends her maid out in the morning to buy the newspapers containing reports on a victim’s inquest:
Then we [Dot, her male lodger, and the maid] all had tea and toast while we read the reports.
Our heroine is sharp, and caustic, but also kind and generous, and doesn’t judge others harshly.

A really excellent book. There will be another entry.

I had a very clear picture of how Dot would have looked in the extract above, but couldn’t find quite the right picture. A tam o’shanter is a kind of flat cap or beret with a pompom in the centre (Scottish associations, Burns poem). The lady on the bike in a tam is from the Library of Congress and dates to the 1890s. The other one is a suggested fancy dress costume for a New Woman, again from the 1890s. She has put a bicycle lamp onto her tam o’shanter, so you don’t really get the full effect.  Interesting that she has a gun slung across her back. The third picture, from the NYPL, shows some examples of hats and jackets from 1888.

Tuesday, 6 October 2015

Tuesday Night Bloggers: The Labours of Hercules

The Tuesday Night Bloggers is an international blogging club consisting of The Passing Tramp, Bev Hankins, Brad Friedman, Helen Szamuely, Jeffrey Marks Moira Redmond [that’s me, Clothes in Books] and Noah Stewart

We are named after an Agatha Christie collection, and our first project is to do a Christie-related post every Tuesday night for six weeks. These are the
links to last week’s entries -  Curt at Passing Tramp is masterminding this, and providing a clearing house for links to the pieces at his blog, here.

Last week I did a general Christie List of Highs and Lows. This week I have decided to look at one of her more obscure short stories:

The Arcadian Deer, from The Labours of Hercules

story first appeared in January 1940, collection first published 1947

Labours of Hercules

extract from story:

So he came at last to Katrina Samoushenka. When he saw her, lying there with hollow cheeks in each of which was a vivid red stain, and long thin emaciated hands stretched out on the coverlet, a memory stirred in him. He had not remembered her name, but he had seen her dance--had been carried away and fascinated by the supreme art that can make you forget art.
He remembered Michael Novgin, the Hunter, leaping and twirling in that outrageous and fantastic forest that the brain of Ambrose Vandel had conceived. And he remembered the lovely flying Hind, eternally pursued, eternally desirable--a golden beautiful creature with horns on her head and twinkling bronze feet. He remembered her final collapse, shot and wounded, and Michael Novgin standing bewildered, with the body of the slain Deer in his arms.

Katrina Samoushenka was looking at him with faint curiosity. She said: “I have never seen you before, have I ? What is it you want of me ?"

Hercule Poirot made her a little bow. "First, Madame, I wish to thank you -for your art which made for me once an evening of beauty."

She smiled faintly.

"But also I am here on a matter of business. I have been looking, Madame, for a long time for a certain maid of yours -- her name was Nita."

"Nita ?" She stared at him. Her eyes were large and startled. She said: "What do you know about -- Nita ?

commentary: During my recent Agatha Christie week on the blog I made the case for the best of her writing – the clever plots, the tricks she plays, the way (contrary to received opinion) she subverts cliches and stereotypes. This short story is not one of the exhibits for the defence, nor does it back up my other great joy in Christie, sociological interest. It is an outrageously corny romantic story, a complete fairytale, but I always love it.

I was reminded of it by a recent exchange with Margot Kinberg over at Confessions of a Mystery Novelist – she’d done a post on car mechanics in crime fiction, and so naturally I thought of Ted in this story. He is in love with the ballerina’s lady’s maid, but he can’t find her. Luckily, Poirot is on the case…. And that’s it really. It’s a short story, there is no real crime, and there is always hope that love will conquer all.

My good blogging friend Vicki/Skiourophile keeps track of consumption victims in the books she reads – I was so impressed by this that I decided to do the same this year, but have been sadly let down by my choice in reading. People have become ill, and sometimes died, in many different ways, but there has been very little consumption. But here’s one! Consider what Count Alexis Pavlovitch says about the ballerina:
"What fire -- what abandon! She would have gone far--she would have been the premier Ballerina of her day -- and then suddenly it all ends -- she creeps away -- to the end of the world -- and soon, ah! so soon, they forget her."
"Where is she then ?" demanded Poirot.
"In Switzerland. At Vagray les Alpes. It is there that they go, those who have the little dry cough and who grow thinner and thinner. She will die, yes, she will die! She has a fatalistic nature. She will surely die."

You will be glad to hear that nothing comes between our investigator and his case – the next line is:
Poirot coughed to break the tragic spell. He wanted information.
And people say Christie is soft-centred.

I cannot in all conscience recommend this story to everyone, even to other Christie fans. But it has a place in my stony heart…

And look at that picture. It’s from the State Library of New South Wales, was taken by Max Dupain, and shows Tamara Tchinarova in the 1930s. Tchinarova was born in 1919 and is still living - a ballerina whose career is well worth looking at on Wikipedia.

There are Christie entries everywhere on the blog - click on the label below to see them, and don’t forget to look at the other Tuesday Night Bloggers’ entries.

Different stories from the Labours of Hercules were covered in a previous entry.

Monday, 5 October 2015

The Lady Vanishes by Ethel Lina White

first published as The Wheel Spins, 1936

Lady Vanishes 2
[Iris Carr is on a train, trying to track down her missing fellow-passenger, Miss Froy]

"I can't tell you much," she faltered. "You see, there's nothing much about her to catch hold of. She's middle-aged, and ordinary—and rather colourless."

"Tall or short? Fat or thin? Fair or dark?" prompted Hare.

"Medium. But she said she had fair curly hair."

"'Said?'" repeated the professor. "Didn't you notice it for yourself?"

"No. But I think it looked faded. I remember she had blue eyes, though."

"Not very enlightening, I'm afraid," remarked the professor.

"What did she wear?" asked Hare suddenly.

"Tweed. Oatmeal, flecked with brown. Swagger coat, finger-length, with patch pockets and stitched cuffs and scarf. The ends of the scarf were fastened with small blue-bone buttons and she wore a natural tussore shirt-blouse, stitched with blue—a different shade—with a small blue handkerchief in the breast-pocket. I'm afraid I didn't notice details much. Her hat was made of the same material, with a stitched brim and a Récamier crown, with a funny bright-blue feather stuck through the band."

"Stop," commanded Hare. "Now that you've remembered the hat, can't you make another effort and put a face under it?"
Lady Vanishes

commentary: This is the perfect extract from an excellent book: what could be more Clothes in Books than Iris’s inability to describe her new friend physically, but total recall of her clothes?

This is the book that inspired the 1938 Hitchcock film, and is usually now published under the film name – The Wheel Spins is a roulette metaphor, and not really any great loss. When I first read it years ago, I was rather disappointed, which I think is because it was so different from the film. This time I was prepared for that, am on an Ethel Lina White reading jag, and was looking for clothing references. And I loved the book, and was spoilt for choice with the clothes.

First of all, the film. Hitchcock & his writers, Gilliatt and Launder, really only kept a basic shell concept – woman travelling on train makes a casual new acquaintance. Suddenly Miss Froy disappears, and everyone denies she ever existed. Young woman must try to find out what is going on. Film and book now diverge: the motivation behind the disappearance is completely different.

Also, in the book, there is a huge moral issue concerning not getting involved; people’s reasons for wanting to get back to England without delay (which seem worth a lie); their conscience and lack of it. In the film this is pretty much reduced to some theoretical patriotism and the importance of a cricket match.

But, on to the clothes. The story begins in a tourist hotel in an unspecified Middle European country – a Ruritanian Balkan state. Iris is a flighty-seeming society woman of independent mean. Her friends, now departed, included a woman who came down to dinner in her ‘bathing-slip’, to the horror of the other guests, and really who can blame them? But then Iris is criticized by other guests for wearing a pretty afternoon frock for dinner:
"We always make a point of wearing evening dress for dinner, when we're on the Continent."
"If we didn't dress, we should feel we were letting England down."
Mrs Barnes – recipient of these remarks – ‘was keeping up England in limp brown lace’.
There is a pair of illicit lovers who breakfast in ‘a Chinese dressing-gown… and an elaborate wrapper over satin pyjamas.’

And there is a family on the train who
all wore new and fashionable suits, which might have been inspired by a shorthand manual. The father wore stripe—the mother, spots—and the daughter, checks. Iris reflected idly that if they were broken up, and reassembled, in the general scramble, they might convey a message to the world in shorthand.
--if only I could have found a picture of that.

There is a mention of ‘Margaret Rose silk’ which, diligent research suggests, was a tartan invented for the Queen’s sister, the Princess born in 1930, and available in silk as well as wool. This is the version offered to this day by tartan weavers DC Dalgliesh:
Lady Vanishes Margaret Rose

Miss Froy, the missing lady, is a lovely character, and the action scenes on the train are interspersed with moments with her parents who are anxiously awaiting her. She is compared to a Victorian aunt who:
In her lifetime… had wanted a talking-doll, a tricycle, an operatic career, a husband, a legacy. She got none of these things, but she never discarded a single wish, nor doubted that each would be granted—in the end.
And you very much hope that her stubbornness will be rewarded.

This isn’t a perfect book – White had a kind of scattershot approach, throwing everything in, and the morality can be awkwardly pushed – but I enjoyed it hugely.

More entries on Ethel Lina White books here, or click on the tab below.

One tweedy spinster is from the film It’s a Wonderful Life, the other from the NYPL.

Sunday, 4 October 2015

Dress Down Sunday: Something To Send The Album Out With A Bang


the book: Revolution In The Head by Ian MacDonald

originally published  1994; 2nd revised edition 2005

From regular guest blogger Colm Redmond

Beatles Colm

[11 February 1963, Abbey Road studios: The Beatles famously record their first LP, Please Please Me, in just over 12.5 hours.]

…the clock in Studio 2 showed 10pm. The Beatles had been recording for twelve hours and time was officially up. [Producer] George Martin, though, needed one more number – something to send the album out with a bang. Accordingly he and his team retired with the group to the Abbey Road canteen for a last cup of coffee (or, in Lennon’s case, warm milk for his ragged throat). They knew what they had to do – the wildest thing in The Beatles’ act: TWIST AND SHOUT, their cover of a 1962 US hit by black Cincinnati family act The Isley Brothers. An out-and-out screamer, it was always demanding. That night it was a very tall order indeed.

Back in Studio 2, the group knew they had at most two chances to get this arduous song on tape before Lennon lost his voice. At around 10.30pm, with him stripped to the waist and the others ‘hyping’ themselves by treating the control room staff as their audience, they went for it. The eruptive performance that ensued stunned the listening technicians and exhilarated the group (as can be heard in McCartney’s triumphant ‘Hey!’ at the end). Trying for a second take, Lennon found he had nothing left and the session stopped there and then – but the atmosphere was still crackling. Nothing of this intensity had ever been recorded in a British pop studio.

commentary: If reading that excerpt didn’t make you want to listen to the track it’s about, immediately, this amazing book is probably not for you. If it did: you might never get tired of dipping into it.

Ian MacDonald places every known Beatles recording (in chronological order) into context. And by context, I mean not just who wrote it and where and when and why, what they recorded before and after it, what they argued about, who played what on what instrument and who wasn’t even there, who was in the control room, where they went after the session and so on; but also what was happening elsewhere in London and the world, among their peers and rivals and fans and in society as a whole. The subtitle The Beatles’ Records And The Sixties is in fact a fair indication of its scope. Everything is relevant for MacDonald, even what John Lennon felt forced to watch on TV when he was feeling suffocated by his conventional marriage. (The sitcom Meet The Wife, mentioned in the song Good Morning, Good Morning on the Sgt Pepper album – made in 1967 but it feels as though it was a generation later than their first.)

It’s a long book, but The Beatles didn’t record much, by comparison for example to The Rolling Stones or Bob Dylan. (Only 188 proper recordings, including songs they gave to other people and the posthumous tracks based on Lennon’s demo tapes.) So there is room for a page or two or even three about a single track. But you trust MacDonald because – although he clearly loves a good 75% of the band’s work – he’s never afraid to dismiss something as throwaway or trite. Books that go into this kind of detail sometimes go too far down the road of completeness, obsessing over alternate takes or live versions, stating authoritatively that they are ‘better’ when this judgement is entirely subjective. But MacDonald always regards the officially released version of a song as key. You can always find your way to that, and read about the other takes within the same entry.

I’m old enough to remember new Beatles records coming out, and have heard some of these recordings literally hundreds of times. But on almost every page I read things I didn’t know, and discovered mistakes and clunky edits and weird noises I’d never noticed. There is a mass of fascinating trivia for those of us who like such things: I knew Norman ‘Hurricane’ Smith, who had a few hits as a singer in the 70s, produced the earliest Pink Floyd records, but I didn’t know he was also the engineer on just about everything The Beatles recorded before Sergeant Pepper. I didn’t know Paul McCartney was on holiday with Jane Asher when he wrote For No One. Or that the original lyrics of In My Life detailed a very specific journey through Liverpool, past real life landmarks dear to me and the original Clothes In Books.

One thing Ian MacDonald was not much interested in is clothes, but in this case he does at least let us in on the fact that Lennon was topless when he dragged this deathless vocal out of the exhausted recesses of his body. In the photo, however, he’s the only one with his top on. (L-R: George in sandals and socks, Paul, John, Ringo. The person flat out behind them is unconnected, as far as anyone knows.) The picture was taken in July 1963 in Weston-Super-Mare, when The Beatles had already had three hits, including two No.1s. But full scale Beatlemania would not start until She Loves You – written 26 June in Newcastle, recorded 01 July, released 23 August – went straight to No.1 a few weeks later.

The song Twist And Shout was co-written by Phil Medley – no relation to Bill, of The Righteous Brothers – and Bert Berns, who played a major part in the early career of Van Morrison. Under his pseudonym of Bert Russell, Berns wrote an amazing number of great songs.

To read more from the guest blogger, click on his name below.

Saturday, 3 October 2015

The Go-Between by LP Hartley–part 2

published 1953

Go-Between white 3

What they thought, what they did, how they occupied themselves, was a mystery to me. The young men down from the University (as Marcus assured me they were), the young women with even less to identify them, would greet me on their way to or from the tennis court or the croquet lawn; the men in white flannels, white boots, and wearing straw boaters, the women, also in white with hourglass figures and hats like windmills; all white, or nearly white, save for the men’s black socks that sometimes showed above their buckskin boots. Some found more to say to me than others; but they were only part of the scene and I never had, or felt I ought to have, Go-Between white 2the smallest personal relationship with them. They were they, and Marcus and I were we – different age groups, as we should say now. And that was why, for the first day or two, I never properly took in the fact that one of ‘them’ was my host’s son, and another his daughter. Blond (as they mostly were), dressed in white, swinging their tennis-rackets, they looked so much alike!
commentary: I explained in a previous entry how I came to read this book, and how much I loved it. There, I looked at the young boys’ outfits: here are the marriageable young men and women who are flirting and looking each over at the house party.

Clothes are important in the book, and it’s obvious that Marion –the female protagonist - is quite daring, though she is never going to go too far. And there is a nicely symbolic moment where one character asks Leo how close he sits to her in church, and his painstaking reply is
‘Well of course her dress - ’
‘Yes, yes…These dresses spread out quite a long way.’
There is an extraordinary discussion of what she might wear to ride a bicycle:
She’ll come in riding it, and wearing tights, she says, if Mama will let her, which I doubt. She may have to wear bloomers.’ I closed my eyes against the enchanting vision.
…‘Are bloomers safer than tights?’ I asked.
‘Safer, good heavens no, but they’re not so fast.’

The tights would, I think, resemble modern leggings more than current pantyhose – tights in those days were worn by gymnasts and acrobats and music hall performers – but still it’s an interesting idea.

There’s also a description of the huge baggy outfits the women wore for a swimming expedition:
Marian’s [bathing] suit, I remember, seemed to cover her far more completely than her evening dresses.

Go-Between bather

But again, we can see significance in the fact that as the costumes becomes wetter, more is revealed:
Their thick clumsy dresses began to cling to them and take on the soft outlines of their bodies.
People bandy the word Proustian about, but this book is touched with the same genius as In Search of Lost Time, and has the same ability to make you think you can actually see and feel and imagine what is being described on the page. And to have moments that are so real, and beautifully described, but also work on another level. This is from the fabled cricket match in the book, when a ball is lost:
A scatter of small boys darted off to look for it and while they were hunting the fieldsmen lay down on the grass; only Ted and his partner and the two umpires remained standing, looking like victors on a stricken field. All the impulse seemed to go out of the game: it was a moment of complete relaxation.
And there is the hilarious fact that Leo is obsessed with what you might call the midden:
I preferred the rubbish-heap, for there I had a sense of adventure…
Leo, despite being very much of his time, is the most real child ever – he doesn’t resemble any modern boy, but still you can understand and sympathize with him the whole time, even when he is being annoying and tiresome.

A perfect book.

The man and woman are from a Danish magazine of the era.

The tennis picture is from the  NYPL, as are the bathing suits.

Friday, 2 October 2015

Fashion and Fiction: Linda Grant

The Thoughtful Dresser by Linda Grant

published 2009

Thoughtful Dresser

[Christian Dior launched what became known as the New Look in 1947]

The ‘Bar’ suit: …an off-white shantung silk jacket with sloping shoulders, and ballerina-length pleated black skirt, an outfit which requires a twenty-one-inch waist and very severe, rib-deforming corsetry, as depicted in an accompanying short film at the exhibition. Nevertheless I appreciated its qualities as I might a painting by Leonardo da Vinci. I know now that the effortless elegance of the ensemble, as my mother would have called it (quaint word, now out of use), including the inverted saucer-shaped straw hat and the black gloves, the white pointed-toe shoes which look as if they are already dying to grow up and become the as-yet-to-be-invented stilettos (Roger Vivier, Dior’s shoe guy will later create those by installing a metal rod in the heel), is a masterpiece of engineering.

The illustration that would appear in French Vogue showed ‘Bar’ as an airy creation, almost ethereal. In real life the wearer was held in place by a series of agonising restraints. ‘Bar’ is not so much sewn as constructed, using, Dior confided, ‘solid fabrics whose weight was reinforced with taffeta or cambric linings’, not to mention underpinnings in the form of underwired bustiers, girdles, tulle and horsehair petticoats, and a strap-on device called a peplum that padded the hips in order to draw attention to the waist. Sheer torture, but I don’t care. It is the most elemental, iconic, feminine garment of the twentieth century.

observations: Earlier this year I went to the first Fashion and Fiction event at London’s V&A Museum – this blog entry on Margaret Atwood was the result. Journalist and writer Rosie Goldsmith is organizing this series of evenings, and can you imagine anything more Clothes in Books? The latest event in the series took place on Tuesday this week.

Linda Grant is one of my favourite authors anyway – on the blog I have featured I Murdered my Library, Upstairs at the Party, and The Clothes on Their Backs, and she and I come from the same part of Liverpool, and visited the same bookshops when we were young. She writes great, intelligent novels, with wonderful heroines, and she knows why clothes are important. She gave a fascinating talk at Tuesday’s event, and then participated in a conversation with Rosie and answered questions from the audience. She is a terrific advocate for clothes in books, and helps the cause because her books are taken seriously, despite being entertaining and containing clothes descriptions…

The Thoughtful Dresser is non-fiction, and states Grant’s case for the importance of adornment and clothing via the story of her life in clothes, with a series of anecdotes about herself and her family, and the stories of others – in particular, an Auschwitz survivor. Linda Grant meets her because she is researching the existence of a red shoe in the pile of shoes in the camp memorial. The woman she finds has a transcendent story, and one that would make the stoniest heart weep.

And Grant also tackles other questions: the clothes above, as she says, are very beautiful. Should women wear torturing clothes to look beautiful? Why do we wear heels we can’t walk in, dresses we can’t run in? She has a refreshing view on everything. She talks about the difference between car style and street style; she knows about buying

two cosmetic products  because if you do, you will receive, absolutely free for nothing, a make-up bag containing samples of other products, half of which you’ll give to a friend’s teenage daughter.

And I loved this reason for always having  a beautiful coat, no matter how old you are:

I like the image of ruined old women, sitting in their last mink in a café, smoking a cigarette and drinking a small, appetite-suppressing cup of coffee. I buy my coat against that potential future. Even if the lipstick bleeds into the cracks, at least we’re seen. In a recession you cannot allow life to turn beige.

Grant also talked about the Paul Gallico book, Mrs Harris Goes to Paris, in which a Cockney charwoman saves up for a Dior dress - blog entry here.

The picture, taken by Willy Maywald, is from Kristine’s photostream, and this is the caption:
In 1947, Christian Dior presented a collection of wasp-waisted and hip-padded designs. The "Bar" suit was considered the most iconic model in the collection, manifesting all the attributes of Dior's dramatic atavism. Featuring rounded shoulders, a cinched waist and a long pleated wool full skirt, backed with cambric, which is exceptionally heavy. The 'New Look' celebrated ultra-femininity and opulence in women’s fashion. Harper’s Bazaar editor-in-chief, Carmel Snow, named Dior’s revolutionary direction, ‘The New Look.’ Although Dior created many notched collars, he was a fervent advocate of shawl collars and curved necklines. Arguably, the shawl collar plays effectively with the curvaceous forms Dior articulated at the shoulders and hips.

I am looking forward to future Fashion and Fiction events – you can find the Facebook page here, and thanks again to Rosie Goldsmith for taking such a great idea and running with it…

ADDED LATER: Meanwhile, blogfriend Daniel Milford Cottam left a comment below regarding the dating of the iconic photograph. He recommends this blogpost from Jonathan Walford - which suggests that the photo is from 10 years later and has subtle differences from the original. Well worth a read, and the comments on the post (including some from Daniel) are particularly fascinating and detailed and informative.