Saturday, 11 August 2012

An Egyptian party in the 1920s - Tutmania

the book:

The Weighing of the Heart by Jane Thynne

published 2010    set in the 1920s





“It’s an Egyptian party. You know… fancy dress. People wear costumes and head-dresses, and pretend they’re goddesses or mummies. You must have seen it. It’s all the craze.” …

There were Egyptian sandals and dresses à l’Egyptienne. There was the Tutankhamen hat, the Luxora frock, the Nile Style. The shapes and emblems of Egyptian art, so old, sacred and traditional, had become new, secular and fashionable. And in the process they had entirely lost the taste and elegance of the originals… Iris’s friends adored dressing up. They would drape themselves in wigs and togas and knee breeches and crinolines at the slightest excuse. The men loved it as much as the girls, if not more, and were only too ready to pile on the make-up of a regency dandy or a roman emperor. Everyone at that evening’s party… had plunged into the Egyptian theme with gusto. One guest had even arrived encased entirely in a wooden mummy, which had to be hefted by two men from the taxi to the door. Several of the women were carrying ostrich-feather fans and most wore draped and pleated dresses decorated with pyramid and scarab motifs. Round their brows were jewelled and tasselled headbands.


observations: It’s never clear why some authors aren’t better known: Jane Thynne has written three excellent books with settings in the early 20th century. They’re well-written, with great plots and characters: they live on that difficult-to-achieve edge where literary fiction meets historical thriller.
They are much better than many books in the same genre achieving far more success. Even her names are perfect: Sir Lewis Appleby (from The Shell House) the brilliant geneticist - wouldn’t we be sure we’d come across his name in the real-life chronicles of the 1930s?

Egypt-mania swept the world in the 1920s after the discovery of the Tutankhamun tomb in 1924, and is key to the plot of this book – protagonist Samuel was part of the expedition, but what really happened there?

Links up with:
Justice Hall is set in the same era, and the book features an Egyptian-themed party. More scenes at parties in the 1920s here and here.
The picture is a sketch for an Egyptian-themed stage costume by the great designer of the era, Leon Bakst.


3 comments:

  1. Moira - It's so interesting isn't it how a one event can have such a profound effect on fashion and taste. As you say, Egypt was all the rage at that time; it even prompted an interest in the occult, which Agatha Christie treats here and there. Very nicely done post :-).

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  2. Thanks Margot. I love the idea that the Egypt-mania coincided with the rise of cinema, and so there were many Egyptian-themed cinemas built, a strange but wonderful idea! Do you watch Downton Abbey? I'm hoping they'll have a bit of Egyptiania as they make their way through the 1920s...

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  3. Thank you for your lovely comments. I was, in turn, thrilled to discover this wonderful blog! I will definitely recommend around. Clothes in books (the title says it all..) are a great interest of mine. My next novel, Black Roses, also follows the fashion theme with the true story of Hitler's attempt to create a Reich Fashion Bureau, run by the elite Nazi wives. My (fictional) heroine gets involved with the enterprise while spying for British intelligence. I'm now going to have a great time reading back all your blog archive! Jane

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