Wednesday, 11 July 2012

Chinese Robes - good or bad? Part 2

the book:

Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh

published 1945   book 3  chapter 4




Julia wore the embroidered Chinese robe which she often used when we were dining alone at Brideshead; it was a robe whose weight and stiff folds stressed her repose; her neck rose exquisitely from the plain gold circle at her throat; her hands lay still among the dragons in her lap. It was thus that I had rejoiced to see her nights without number, and that night, watching her as she sat between the firelight and the shaded lamp, unable to look away for love of her beauty, I suddenly thought, ‘When else have I seen her like this? Why am I reminded of another moment of vision?’ And it came back to me that this was how she had sat in the liner [travelling back from the USA], before the storm; this was how she had looked, and I realized that she had regained what I thought she had lost fore ever, the magical sadness which had drawn me to her, the thwarted look that had seemed to say, ‘Surely I was made for some other purpose than this?’

observations:  Julia again – and this time viewed with the eye of love, showing Waugh could do a nice description of a loving view of a woman.

 As well as tackling huge issues of sin, morals and religion, Brideshead Revisited is also very funny, and full of excellent characters. One weird thing is that narrator Charles Ryder has two children called Caroline and JohnJohn – just as John F Kennedy and his wife Jackie will have a few years later in real life. (The children are dismissed pretty brutally in the book.)

Nancy Mitford, author of the previous
Chinese Robe episode, was a close friend of Evelyn Waugh’s, and although she loved the book she took exception to the theme of renunciation by lovers on religious grounds. She said in a letter to him: ‘the God I believe in… likes people to be happy & people who love each other to live together – so long as nobody else’s life is upset (&then he’s not sure).’ Intriguingly, Waugh’s response mentions her defending the Duke of Windsor (not mentioned in the published letter) – he having renounced a crown - then goes on to say ‘it is certainly true that people often feel qualms of conscience about illicit love only when they are beginning to get bored…’ Their exchanges on the book are illuminating – but then their correspondence is one of the finest collections of letters ever. They continue to spar about religion over many years….

Links up with:
Yesterday’s entry, with a Mitford Chinese robe. Brideshead and Julia featured before. Western women in Chinese robes also feature in the stories of Stella Gibbons (of Cold Comfort Farm fame) from the 1930s – in one case a rather racy woman (with a past) is going to lend the robe to the amateur dramatic group.

The photo is from the
George Eastman House Photography Collection.


2 comments:

  1. I enjoyed Brideshead Revisited too, which I read when I read all those penguin editions of Waugh....my dim memory is that he was wrong about the ruination of the stately homes which in the event (in many cases) were saved by opening them to the public. (Rather infra dig, perhaps!)

    I may be misremembering, but doesn't a chinese robe feature in W. Somerset Maugham's The Painted Veil? Maugham seems to me to be an author who must have written about a woman wearing one in at least one book!

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  2. Thanks - I think you're right on both counts! I think Waugh would have hated the modern world, but not for quite the reasons he thought he would - he certainly didn't correctly predict what would happen to those houses.

    And I shall certainly go chasing up Maugham - I LOVE that book, and I think you may be right. If it's not that, then another of his. They were quite a feature of books of that era...

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