Dress Down Sunday -
looking at what goes on under the clothes
A Summer Bird-Cage by Margaret Drabble
[Sarah is to be bridesmaid to her older sister Louise]
I went to see if I could help Louise dress. This was one of the tasks which books on weddings expressly allocate to the chief bridesmaid… and I have always been conscientious… when I went in [she was] standing still and looking at herself in the mirror. Her dress was on, but open all the way down the front…
There were a lot of little buttons, all the way from the demure high neck to the waist, and I fumbled over them. They didn’t have proper buttonholes but horrid little fabric loops. I could feel her hard breasts rising and falling under my clumsy hands in her far from new brassiere. I thought how like her, to wear a bra that is actually dirty on her wedding day. She must have been wearing it for the past week.
‘Is this your something old?’ I asked, indicating it.
observations: For women of a certain age, who read Birdcage as rather advanced teenagers in the 70s, this was the most shocking thing in the book. The sophisticated chitchat, the girls’ casual agreement that it would be awful to be a virgin on marriage, the gold-digging, the affairs and adultery – all that was fine by us in our youthful sophistication. But getting married in a dirty bra? It was a brilliant touch, almost too symbolic of Louise’s attitude to the wedding, but still briskly memorable. So it seemed an appropriate choice as the 200th entry on the blog, especially as it coincides with a Dress Down Sunday. The other unforgettable moment in the book is that [SPOILER] much later on Louise is shown to be taking a bath with her lover while wearing a shower cap, which Sarah thinks shows ‘she must at heart be quite fond of both John and me: of John to have worn it, and of me, to have told it.’
The book – Drabble’s first - is very much of its time, and is bracing on the subject of sibling rivalry, feminism, and why marriage both attracts and traps young women. The ‘summer birdcage’ is one where the birds outside wish they were inside, while those inside are wishing they were free – a clever metaphor. Drabble seems to have dedicated the book to her then-husband…
With thanks to Audrey (again) for the suggestion.
Links up with: weddings feature frequently on the blog – click on the label below. The woman who collected bras was a Stella Gibbons creation here.