Thursday, 27 February 2014

Laughing Torso by Nina Hamnett

published 1932



Henri had a bright red shirt. A friend of mine had invented a shirt, the neck was cut square, it was what is now called a jumper. Henri had a red one and wore it inside his trousers. I wore mine outside my skirt and people stared at us in the street. 





[Later] I wore a jumper made on the same pattern as those Henri and I wore in London, only it was of a large cubist design in blue, orange, and black. No one in Paris had seen anything quite like it and although Sonia Delaunay was already designing scarves, this was more startling. It was made and designed for the Omega Workshops by Roger Fry. I have it on in the photograph of the dance in the Avenue du Maine, where Modigliani is standing in the background.



observations: There have been many entries on this book on the blog: click on the Nina Hamnett or Laughing Torso label below to see the others (dancing around in the nude, the boy who was nearly filed as a girl, the different-coloured shoes). Rarely have I found a book that suggested so many different posts, so I would like to again thank publishing diva Alexandra Pringle for suggesting it – I think this might finally be the last entry, and I will miss Nina and her distinctive voice. I loved reading the book, and preparing these entries.

Henri is the sculptor Henri Gaudier-Brzeska: that’s him in the picture, perhaps wearing his special red shirt. Nina Hamnett is precise about clothes, and her plainly very retentive memory works very well when it comes to their descriptions. She accumulates evening dresses from her much richer friends – one is

long and straight and was covered all over with golden spangles, which looked like fishes’ scales. It fitted quite tight and exposed the lines of the figure to view and I was very much pleased with myself.
As you would guess from the final seven words, she has an entertaining sense of self-knowledge. There’s this too:
I wished I were older. I bought a large black hat like a coal-scuttle and a dress with a slight train and tried to feel fatal.
Her unabashed way of describing what she got up to is very endearing.

One oddity is that she is always telling you if people spoke good French or not, which given the cast of characters is not the most interesting fact to hear. It also gets a bit confusing, because the non-famous people (presumably to protect their privacy) are not given names: they are initials – F. and R., I had to keep turning back to find out if they were male or female – or just described as 'the Pole', or 'the man in the cafĂ©', or 'the man I stared at'. It is quite confusing.

The lower picture is of a Sonia Delaunay design: even though NH is anxious for us to know that she preceded Delaunay, it seemed a suitable illustration. The other is a painting of Henri Gaudier Brzeska by Alfred Wolmark.

10 comments:

  1. Moira - I like that voice too. I'm always pleased when a character has some self-knowledge. Interesting about that lack of use of names. It's a bit like people sometimes do in diaries. And I would have loved to see that cubist-pattern jumper!

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    1. Thanks Margot - I suppose the book was a bit like a diary in one way. And yes, pity she didn't include photographs of all the really memorable clothes!

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  2. I have this feeling of deja vu. The title is very memorable and she is a very interesting person.

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    1. Yes I know, the good thing about my blog is that I can keep returning to the same book if I feel like it and they describe enough clothes!

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  3. "The Pole" was one of her lovers. Or was that "my Pole"?

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    1. She had a lot of them, difficult to keep track....

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  4. Well am I glad to see the back of this one? Err not really, even if its not my thing. Great images

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    1. Very gracious of you sir, and much appreciated. Btw, I just found a comment from you on the folk dancing controversy which had not gone through - I hope you didn't think it was being censored! It is in place now, in all its formal and restrained glory (you know, the one about boiling your head).

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  5. Had not come across this book until now - thanks very much sounds fascinating.

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    1. Thanks Sergio - it might not be everyone's thing, but I found it riveting.

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