Sunday, 7 July 2013

Dress Down Sunday: The Strange Fate of Kitty Easton by Elizabeth Speller

Published 2011    chapter 19  book set in 1924, this memory from around 1914


LOOKING AT WHAT GOES ON UNDER THE CLOTHES




He felt the rough lace and tiny pearl buttons under his hand, felt her small breasts rising and falling. They both subsided on to the window seat. Louise’s eyes were closed as her lips placed gentle kisses on his cheeks. He undid two buttons of her blouse, fumbling ineptly. She made no attempt to stop him. Another two, then three more. Her blouse gaped, revealing the ribbon and tucks of a lawn liberty bodice. Her pearls lay across the hollow at the base of her neck. He kissed her and followed her hairline, lifting her heavy hair. She smelled almost animal. When he slipped his hand into her blouse, he could feel her nipples hard through the fine cotton. The woman in his arms was so unlike the Louise he knew, who had allowed him some kisses but who had always drawn back if they went on too long, and he had never known any other woman. Watching his hand as if it did not belong to him, he moved it again and as the cotton was pulled taut by his fingers, he could see the outline of her flesh beneath.


observations: A liberty bodice was less restricting than a corset - with buttons, not laced or with boning. And it was also warmer, often lined with wool. So a useful extra layer to which stockings could be attached. Adverts show them worn by children and ‘even babies’:





I’m quite hoping that my good blog friend Ken Nye might be able to tell us more – a costume expert, his comments on previous entries have been very illuminating


**ADDED LATER: Yes he did! Don't miss his most helpful notes below....

Elizabeth Speller has written two intriguing novels set in the aftermath of the First World War – she obviously has a strong feeling for the era (she has another book coming out this year set in the trenches). They aren’t particularly cheerful books, not many jokes, but they are engrossing, full of period detail: a character is reading Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Links, which first appeared in 1923, and there is a visit to the Empire Exhibition in London - a big deal then, completely forgotten now.

The story revolves around the disappearance of a little girl, a village where most of the men were lost in the War, an upper-class family trying to carry on living in the big house, and a lot of repressed emotions. The sex scene about to get going above, for example, is not all it might seem. There is also a fair bit about old churches and mazes of all kinds.

There’ll be a second entry on the book later this week.

Links on the blog: For more Dress Down Sunday, click on the label below. The little girl’s nanny lives in the same area as the lodgers in London Belongs to Me, set a few years later – both authors convincingly re-create the atmosphere.

The top picture is from Century Life magazine, the lower one from a Bloomingdale’s catalogue, both via Wikimedia Commons.

4 comments:

  1. And right on cue...
    Well Moira, I'm having a bit of trouble visualizing this one. Perhaps UK usage is different than it was here in Canada, but this would have to take the prize as the most glamourous liberty bodice on record. The pictures you've found belong to before the turn of the century when normal corsets rose to the armpits and pushed the breasts upward. Boning kept them from falling into folds at the waist, especially if they were worn laced tightly. The boning *also* kept the waistbands and drawstrings of heavy skirts from cutting in painfully at the waist. By the early 1900's the stockings were also hung from the bottom of the corset instead of being held up by tight garters around the leg. The sort of firm but unboned and unlaced "waists" that developed and survived to become the "liberty bodice" for children were designed to transfer the pressure of waistbands and garters/suspenders from the waist to the shoulders. By 1914, the "corset" although still laced and boned was well on it's way to becoming the elastic girdle of the next generation, and was used mostly to shape the hips and waist. The top edge came under the breasts which were worn low and were covered and/or supported by a separate garment called a camisole or bust-bodice, and by 1910 even "brassiere". These were chosen according to the needs of the wearer and ranged from firm and well shaped, to bits of embroidered lawn and ribbon. I think, if I were offering editorial advice to the writer, I would suggest changing "liberty bodice", which is associated with shapeless, utilitarian and decidedly *not* glamourous undergarments worn by children to "camisole" to be more in line with what a woman in 1914 would have been wearing and to match the rest of the description.

    "her small breasts rising and falling. They both subsided on to the window seat." *blink* I had to read that more than once...

    "He drew her gently down on to the window seat" maybe?? But I overstep myself...

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  2. Thank you, most helpful and informative! And good catch on the matter of what exactly is subsiding, I hadn't noticed that. You should offer yourself out as an editor....

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  3. Moira - Thanks for this. Thanks to you too, Ken. I never knew much about liberty bodices before but you've both made it clear. And I do want to know who Louise is and who 'he' is. So I'm looking forward to your other post, Moira.

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  4. Thanks Margot - this is a book that had me torn, as I think my second entry will make clear. I liked it very much, and I think she's a terrific writer, but I had reservations!

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