Thursday, 5 December 2013

Alibi for a Witch by Elizabeth Ferrars

published 1952







[Ruth is working for an English family in their villa near Naples, and is having some time off]

When he repeated his invitation, she accepted it, only pointing out that she would have to return to the villa first to dress. Stephen nodded and swam away from her again.

Presently they climbed up the cliff-path together. While Ruth went indoors to change, Stephen waited on the terrace, and when she came down again, in a dress of green shantung, he was sitting on one of the wicker chairs in the shade of the wisteria-coloured trellis. Once more the first thing she noticed when she saw him was that his hair needed cutting. Irritatedly she thought that there was no need for him to look as sloppy as he did. Even if he was a writer, or whatever he was, his flannels could have been cleaned more often and he need not have worn his shirts for so many days.



observations: The Clothes in Books blog-entry-finding-team can only agree. Men in books, as sometimes in real life, simply do not pay enough attention to their clothes and appearance, so do not make for good subjects. In any book there will usually be several reasonable descriptions of women’s clothes, various possible blog entries, but very little on the male side. Tchah.

Elizabeth Ferrars, prolific crime story writer, featured recently, and is likely to appear again – Martin Edwards (in the comments) has kindly recommended another of her books to me, which is lined up. This one I picked up because of the title, thinking it might make a Halloween entry. But no – there is no witch connection at all, just a slightly dragged-in quotation from Macbeth.

It is different from others of hers, which tended to be straight detective stories – it is much more in the style of ‘plucky English girl, working abroad, gets involved in romantic and thriller-esque adventures’. There are categories of novels which I think of as those you would have found in the library of a girls’ school in the 1960s, see this entry and this one for more – Monica Dickens, Jane Duncan. Another such author was Mary Stewart, who wrote exactly this kind of book: exotic settings, an independent young woman, a dark, handsome and moody man whom she has to suspect at some point, but later, maybe….

Clothes play a huge part in the plot: Ruth changing here is very relevant, and there are disguises, swapped clothes and impersonation, some of it rather unlikely (not Agatha Christie unlikely, but still). A reasonable read but nothing to get excited about. 

There is an unlikely form of discomfort when a modern reader goes for a 1950s book with summer-y adventures – the pale English are all busy lying in the sun for hours, there are frequent references to sunburn as interchangeable with suntan, they all think the longer in the sun the better. It’s a bit like the fact that they all smoke all the time….

The picture, from Dovima is Devine is a 1950s fashion photo, shot in Italy.

10 comments:

  1. And Joan Aiken (Englishwoman abroad).

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Did she write those kinds of books? I never know, is she the same person as Jane Aiken Hodge? I never feel I really got a handle on her, you'd better inform me...

      Delete
  2. Moira - A very astute observation about men and clothes in novels. A lot of them don't show a lot of sartorial sophistication. Of course social attitudes towards the things men and women are 'supposed to' be interested in have a lot to do with that in my opinion. And there are men who care about the way they dress (Hercule Poirot for instance) and women who don't (Elizabeth George's Barbara Havers for instance). But you have a good point as a generality. Interesting...

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It's become a subject of even more interest to me since doing this blog, of course! And then think of men and women doing presenting on TV - men can wear a suit, and wear the same thing every night, whereas women will be judged, and must have a wide wardrobe.

      Delete
  3. I read some Mary Stewart books when I got my first adult library ticket, aged about thirteen. I have never read any of them since, but the type of story came back so vividly from your description. Thank you for the pleasure.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you! I must re-read some Mary Stewart. I also loved her later books about Arthur and Merlin.

      Delete
  4. Eventually I will have to find some of these to read. The question is... Start with the early ones or move on to the 60's, 70's or 80's?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I like her 1950s ones best, Tracy, though this one was somewhat different from the others I've read from the era.

      Delete
  5. Probably something I can pass on here.

    ReplyDelete