LOOKING AT WHAT GOES ON UNDER THE CLOTHES
Aurora and Clover [are lacing] their corsets. Aurora said, ‘Tighter, tighter,’ and Clover pulled. Aurora had a beautiful corset: cut-away hips and a short back, made of French coutil with écru lace trimming and pale blue ribbons. God only knew what it had cost, Mama said. It was from the Queen of the May costume. She ought to have a corset too, but Bella was still treated like a baby; hers was only a band, even though she had a bust beginning, and perhaps with a little cotton stuffed inside a corset she would look more like the sixteen she was supposed to be. ..
[Later, at rehearsal] ‘You have laced yourself too tight to breathe. You cannot sing if you cannot breathe.’ Gentry’s stick whisked at Aurora, flicking like a carriage whip on her stiffened midriff. ‘Take her to the dressing room and loosen her corset,’ he told Flora, not troubling to make it a request. His impatience was always on fire in the mornings. A bad time for classes. But they had the choice: learn, or go. He cast his pearls before them! What was it to him if they chose to lace themselves into asphyxia for a pair of booze-soaked Irish eyes?
observations: Another visit to this fabulous book, one of my favourites of this year. And one about which I can’t help wondering – would it be more famous, more acclaimed, if it featured men’s business and male characters?
Coutil – I looked it up on Wikipedia so you don’t have to – is a tightly woven cloth created specifically for making corsets, so it doesn’t stretch or allow the bones poke through.
** ADDED LATER The blog's good friend Ken Nye, a costume expert, has added a comment about singers and corsets, do take a look below.
The three girls are working up a vaudeville act, the Belle Auroras, in which they sing and dance – their singing lessons are rather like those given to Kit by Papa Andreas in The Lark in the Morn and the Lark on the Wing. They will slowly become more successful over the course of the book, and undergo various vicissitudes and pleasures in their personal lives. It is all so well done – the relaxed attitude to periods (good, bad or annoying depending on the circumstances), the complete lack of sentiment, despite the fact that the girls all have great loves in their lives, the picture of their mother as she tries to keep up appearances but drinks a little too much. The friendships on the road, the strange lodgings – it’s all familiar from many other books (and even, in mood if not details, a song – the lovely Knopfler/Harris track Rollin’ On), but Endicott makes it new and engrossing.
This is Aurora working the crowd:
she turned the lamp of her attention on every person in the audience, letting each of them know how she loved them, and always, always would.
Links on the blog: Connie in London Belongs to Me looks back on a similar life in England.