Friday, 21 March 2014

The Fashion in Shrouds by Margery Allingham

published 1938  chapter 7







He glanced across the dance-floor and caught a fleeting glimpse of Georgia dancing. It was only a momentary impression, but he recognized her by her distinctive silver dress and the ridiculous but charming spray of swallows on her dark crown. His astonishment was considerable, therefore, when his glance, travelling back, lighted upon her still sitting at the table… He sat up and looked out at the floor again and his expressions changed. His mistake was triumphantly justified.

Another woman of Georgia’s type was wearing a replica of Georgia’s silver dress and Georgia’s silver swallows. Her dark curls were dressed in Georgia’s style and at a distance the two faces were indistinguishable….

Lady Papendeik [said] ‘Georgia looks exuberant doesn’t she? A woman who wears birds in her hair after 30 ceases to look like Primavera and simply reminds one of that song they will keep playing…’




observations: This is the duplicate dress incident mentioned in a previous entry. One of the joys of the book is the unspoken uncertainty over Georgia’s age: it is clear that although she mentions 36 at one point, this is not to be relied on at all, though Allingham is (uncharacteristically) not spelling it out. (The song mentioned is lost in the mists of time, but seems to have something to do with robins.)

Georgia certainly has wonderful clothes: the silver dress above, the white silk sports suit (the term ‘sports clothes’ in that era did not for a moment imply you would be doing anything active in them, so don’t worry about the dry-cleaning), a black dress with a transparent top and frills below. For a funeral she tells her companion ‘I say, don’t wear all black. I’m the widow. You don’t mind me saying that do you?’ – and wears a hat covered in black butterflies.

When a friend is trying to persuade her not to do something, he says
‘D’you remember that blank verse play you would try one Sunday? You do? It would be like that, only a million times worse’… Georgia looked chastened.
Proper theatres couldn’t open on a Sunday at this time, so that was the day to have play readings, tryouts and experiments at ‘theatre clubs’ – one such performance features in Somerset Maugham’s Theatre/Being Julia, and Julia is a very similar character to Georgia.

The book has a cast of hundreds: on the whole it is a tribute to Allingham that you can keep them straight, though there are constant mentions of the Tarentons, and I’m still not clear if that is a family, a mountain range, or a house.

After a recent re-read, I found out that there is a much abridged version of the book – she cut out 40,000 words herself for a reprint – and I still can’t tell which edition I have read. There are a lot of references to a major party which happens during the (short) timescale of the book, but isn’t actually described – perhaps that’s one of the scenes edited out, and maybe the Tarentons went too.

Two men looking at a dress are
on the verge of making the same mistake by deciding that its charm lay in its simplicity.
This trope of men and their lack of discernment appears often in books – you can find it in this entry on Christie’s Death on the Nile.

I’d like to mention again Julia Jones’ marvellous biography, The Adventures of Margery Allingham – anyone with an interest in MA should read it immediately. I gave it a write-up at the end of this entry. The previous entry on The Fashion in Shrouds is here.

PD James’s Cover Her Face, 25 years later, has two women turning up at a garden party in the same dress, and it’s not going to end well for one of them.

The lovely picture from the era is from Dovima is Devine – it shows bird headdresses by Jean Patou.

14 comments:

  1. Love this book - and, yes, read the unabridged version. The reader needs to understand Georgia, and the murderer's motivation.

    I think Madame Papendeik is referring to the song "Little Old Lady" that the band keeps playing!

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6WbCliy1kx8

    Slow, slow, quick, quick, slow...

    Never got that dig about Georgia's age before!

    Did you refer to Amanda's stockings in a previous entry? ;-)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Stockings - you bet: see this entry here http://clothesinbooks.blogspot.co.uk/2013/09/clothes-in-books-dress-down-sunday.html . 'Two magnets and a dry-battery' is a phrase that has stuck in my mind since first reading in mid-1970s. Such a good book, and open to multiple re-readings. Now I'm off to look at the youtube clip.

      Delete
  2. I will be trying a few GA authors at some point, but haven't considered Allingham. Still not too certain about whether I should put her, but not necessarily this one, onto the list.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Allingham's Tiger in the Smoke is the one for you without a doubt. Couple of entries on the blog.

      Delete
    2. Traitor's Purse is a close second. I like the early ones, but the War definitely added something to Allingham's writing.

      Delete
    3. Yes I agree, Traitor's Purse another good one. I think she's a writer where I like her middle years...

      Delete
  3. In the other post I read about the abridged version vs the longer version. I have just discovered both of my versions are in omnibuses, although they were probably published at separate times. (one is the Mr. Campion's Lady omnibus) I will have to check for a reprint edition and see if I can find a longer version.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Oh, the Mr Campion's Lady omnibus! That's where I first read those books, I got it from the library and re-borrowed it several times. There was an extra short story wasn't there, that you could only find in that book? Happy memories.

      Delete
    2. I looked at my copy of Mr Campion's Lady and I saw the short story that you mentioned ...which I had not even noticed before. That should be fun.

      Delete
    3. My memory is that it's slight but fun.

      Delete
  4. This book is new to me - must look it up!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. If it sounds like your kind of thing - then it will be, and you'll like it...

      Delete
  5. There are many Campion short story collections, and it's hard to keep track. Her stories are definitely worth reading. I like the one about the "beauty king".

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I don't think I've read many short stories about Campion at all, I must catch up.

      Delete