Saturday, 5 May 2012

Bet you look good at the beach in your capris

the book:

The Painted Garden by Noel Streatfeild

published 1949  chapter 17



[The Winter family is on an extended visit to the USA, and 12-year-old Rachel is wondering what to wear to a social event]
Since she had been in California [Rachel] had been noticing American girls of her age. Not a great many came to Santa Monica, but …Rachel had plenty of chance to look at them. Aunt Cora said girls of Rachel’s age were called bobby-soxers, because they often wore short socks. Rachel saw the socks all right but it seemed to her the socks were the only thing that made them different from grown-ups, for they seemed to have the grandest and most lovely clothes. Sitting on the beach she had studied visiting girls carefully. They usually arrived in shirts and sort of three-quarter length slacks

Looking at the girls Rachel saw it was not only the clothes but the way they wore them. In America girls seemed to be expected to look as nice as they possibly could and nobody thought of showing off…. All the other boys and girls took showing off as right and proper, and when the grown-ups appeared they had the pleased, proud faces all Americans seemed to put on as a matter of course when they looked at children or young girls and boys…

If only, oh, if only she had a pair of those three-quarter length slacks how gorgeously right she would feel.


observations: Following naturally on from yesterday’s blog entry, because Rachel’s younger sister Jane has been given the part of Mary in a film of The Secret Garden (hence the name of this book) and a lot of the story deals with her adventures at the studio – the scene with yesterday’s lamb is a key chapter.

In 1949 there was still stringent rationing in the UK, and although the word isn’t used in the book, the contrast between British austerity and American lavishness is marked. (Jane’s friends at the studios send food parcels for her dog, left behind in London.) But as Rachel sees all too clearly, the differences are not only related to resources. It would be interesting to hear from American readers what they think about ‘showing off’ – is it only in England that it’s considered a bad thing? It was certainly much frowned on for a good 30 years after this book was written, a big putdown both child-to-child and adult-to-child. Not so much now? And of course nowadays, whatever the teens on Santa Monica beach were wearing, it would be the same on Blackpool beach. And, thank you, UK parents are allowed to be proud of and pleased with their children.

Links up with: Noel Streatfeild books
here & here (and Posy and Pauline Fossil appear in this book). Secret Garden yesterday. Jane came from California, and that novel contains many comments about US-UK differences.

This fabulous picture was taken by James Jowers at Coney Island, and is from the
George Eastman House Collection. Of course no Noel Streatfeild girl would be smoking.

4 comments:

  1. is the title inspired by the fact that it's 'arctic monkeys day' according to twitter??

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  2. Entire entry planned round that fact. Or perhaps not....

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  3. Typical 50s repressiveness! Oh, no, of course looking nice is "showing off"! And girls were always the target, I think boys got off lightly. And were unaware of the low-level misery girls were put through. I'm sure you can find an example in 50s children's fiction of the ideal English girls were meant to aspire to: well-groomed, neat, well-pressed, shiny shoes, healthy shining well-brushed hair, plain clothes. This ghastly paragon, who did her own shoe-shining and ironing, was simultaneously retarded (she never thought about boys) and unnaturally mature (she spent all her time doing good deeds and being polite to adults). In her free time she was sporty.

    Healthy shining well-brushed hair which was NOT bleached or permed. Her face was innocent of makeup, her stockings were lisle, her shoes were flat. Her clean, pressed clothes were old.

    At some point she had to attract the attentions of a chartered accountant and marry him and live in Surrey and have 2.4 children. How is she going to attract anybody looking like that?

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    1. oh yes indeed, Lucy, there was a stifling feel to it, good girls look like *this* and a deep suspicion of looking nice or trying to improve on nature. School stories a particular pit of vipers. Things *have* changed for the better, even if not in every single way...

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