Julia spread out her evening dresses and looked at them thoughtfully: there was a midnight-blue taffeta – its bodice all boned up to dispense with shoulder straps – which a scarf or coatee would possibly make do….
[Later, when she is asked out to dinner]
“… my wardrobe’s a bit low. I’ve got a lovely dark-blue taffeta, only I don’t know if you’ll like the top. I mean, there practically isn’t any – not even shoulder straps. I don’t mean it isn’t decent, because it is; but it’s a bit – well, dashing. I’ve got a nice lace scarf though; it used to be white.”
“And what colour is it now?” asked Sir William with interest.
“Ecru. I lent it to Louise once, and she got into a rough-house somewhere – just like she always did – and upset coffee right across the middle. So we made a lot more, in a hand-basin, and dipped the whole thing, it came up beautifully. And then Louise went and spilt the whole basinful, right down her frock!”…
“So then you made a bathful - ”
observations: Margery Sharp has featured before – her terrific book The Eye of Love is a great favourite, and this Valentine’s Day non-makeover picture always raises a smile. That book is surprising and almost subversive: this one is a more traditional romantic comedy, but very funny and a delight to read. Virago or Persephone should reprint it.
This is the plot: Chorus girl and posh boy have shotgun marriage during WW1, boy dies, girl, Julia, has baby, goes to his family, and eventually, by mutual agreement, leaves little girl with Granny and Grandad, and goes off to resume her theatricals. This is done and dusted in about 7 pages in the book, so that 15 years later daughter can write to long-lost mother and asks her to come and help, as there is romantic trouble. Julia sets off for South of France to see them, and to try to sort out the situation. Well, a great set-up anyway, obviously. But, even better, she is neither the sparky Ginger Rogers type, nor a put-upon undermaid being got at by snobbish family. If you took Topaz from I Capture the Castle, and crossed her with Miss Pettigrew you would get something like Julia. And it’s all a bit AbFab too: the daughter is a serious-minded and sensible young woman at Girton, while Julia is easily distracted by men, excitement and vulgar postcards, and all too ready to show off her legs.
Coatee – it just means a short, fitted coat, and could be a baby’s jacket as well as something worn with an evening dress – is a splendid word: we should revive it.
The black and white picture is of model Jean Holland, and dates from 1952; the other is from 1945: both are from the dovima is devine II photostream on Flickr.