Linda occupied her days buying clothes… [Fabrice ] took an intense interest in her clothes, looked them up and down, made her parade round her drawing-room in them, forced her to take them back to the shops for alterations which seemed to her quite unnecessary, but which proved in the end to have made all the difference.
Linda had never before fully realized the superiority of French clothes to English. In London she had been considered exceptionally well dressed, when she was married to Tony; she now realized that never could she have had, by French standards, the smallest pretensions to chic. The things she had with her seemed to her so appallingly dowdy, so skimpy and miserable and without line, that she went to the Galeries Lafayette and bought herself a ready-made dress there before she ventured into the big houses. When she did finally emerge from them with a few clothes, Fabrice advised her to get a great many more. Her taste, he said, was not at all bad for an Englishwoman, though he doubted whether she would really become elegante in the true sense of the word.
observations: Once Nancy Mitford moved to Paris - in Pursuit of Love herself and partly financed by this book’s bestsellerdom – nothing English was ever going to be good enough; everything French was superior. She made a joke of this attitude, and knew other people mocked her, but still she thought it self-evident. In Don’t Tell Alfred she has a character (plainly based on herself) saying that even the things the British are supposed to be good at – well, even there the French excel. (Tweeds, weather, lamb cutlets and weddings are all mentioned.)
Mitford dressed very beautifully herself, and very much at the top French couturiers. She looked wonderful, but that was partly because she had a very good, slim figure. (Note the anecdote in this blog entry about her waist.) It’s hard to believe that Linda looked all that bad – earlier in the book we have been told that her dresses have ‘originality and prettiness’, and after all they are made by Mrs Josh, whose husband is a terrific Hon…
In an earlier entry on this book we advanced the theory that Linda isn’t as appealing to readers as she is to the characters in the book – Davey and Lord Merlin have quite unlikely passions for her, while Fanny loves Linda’s child more than her own, and it all gets a bit much. But Mitford does have her moments of steel. The closing lines of this book are quite remarkable.
Linda has died in childbirth, and Fanny is discussing this with her own mother, The Bolter, who says ‘perhaps it’s just as well. The lives of women like Linda and me are not so much fun when one begins to get older.’
Fanny protests that Fabrice was the great love of Linda’s life.
‘Oh, dulling,’ said my mother sadly. 'One always thinks that. Every every time.’
One of the great closing lines, and not at all sweet. And words that always, now, make me think of Diana, the Princess of Wales – a bolter if ever there was one, very much a Linda. (Monica Ali imagines an alternate life for Diana in this entry.)
Links on the blog: More Nancy Mitford all over the blog, click on the label below. Proper clothes shopping in London in the same era in this entry.
The picture is of the Cheruit salon in Paris. Cheruit designs featured in this entry and this one.