Friday, 11 April 2014

Echo by Violet Trefusis


published 1930









At Glendrocket they could still pass muster – indeed the kilts they wore were a picturesque part of the place – but at Edinburgh the twins were quite simply grotesque. Malcolm had been instructed by his aunt
that whenever he was in her company he should wear trousers. His trousers had been bought when he was 16. They now reached mid-calf. As for Jean’s wardrobe, it was impossible to find either a tailored suit or an evening dress that would do. Shop assistants would murmur in hushed, regretful tones, that there was no size to fit the young lad, neither in shoes, nor in hats… unless one wished to try men’s?


observations: This short book is like a fable, and I don’t think you are meant to be able to picture these twins too clearly – ‘Sigmund and Sieglinde, in brown’ is how a passerby describes them, and perhaps a Wagner opera is where they belong. M/F twins cannot be identical and are not particularly like each other, and these two – who are 20, but act as though they are about 14 – would be maddening and silly in real life. But in this strange novella they acquire a nobility to match their landed gentry background - he is, of course, Sir Malcolm, we don’t deal with the lower classes here.

Their Parisienne cousin Sauge is coming to stay, an urban beauty with lovely clothes (who thinks Jean’s dress ‘looked as if it had once been curtain-material’) . Of course the twins dread her arrival, determined to dislike her. And, equally predictably, they all fall in love with each other. Which will not have a happy ending. There is also bittersweet plot strand in which Sauge’s husband is trying to make her jealous. The 3 main characters apparently represent different aspects of a personality or mind: a trope that interested both Trefusis and her lover Vita Sackville-West very much. The book also deals in many letters, sent and unsent, another idea the author played with a lot.





If you know of Violet Trefusis at all, it’s probably via her exotic progress through the novels, memoirs, letters and biographies of, or dealing with, the first half of the 20th century. She is Sasha in Virginia Woolf’s Orlando, arising from her notable affair with Vita Sackville-West (whose The Edwardians featured on the blog earlier this week), all the Portrait of a Marriage business. She wrote her own novel about the affair, and one jointly with S-W. Nancy Mitford had a love/hate relationship with Trefusis, and used her in part in her character Lady Montdore (see blog entries here and here). Her mother is the great-grandmother of Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, and was a mistress of Edward VII (Trefusis, late in life, started to hint that she was his daughter, though it seems certain that this was not so). So Trefusis is Camilla’s great-aunt.

As Michael Holroyd points out in his engrossing Book of Secrets, Trefusis tends to be seen only through others’ eyes: she left no children or clear supporters while S-W’s story is filtered by her son Nigel Nicolson, and there are whole businesses surrounding Woolf and Mitford. But Trefusis was seen as a key literary figure in France – much to Nancy Mitford’s annoyance – and was awarded the Legion d’Honneur for services to literature, which must have been some consolation. She wrote easily in both French and English: I almost accidentally bought Echo in French while looking for a second-hand copy - it was written in French first and translated.

It seemed a cop-out to use a picture of Sauge in her lovely Parisian fashions – fun though that would be – but it was difficult to find pictures of gigantic Scots fraternal and opposite-sexed twins. These were the best I could do, ignoring gender, and with one handsome kilt man on his own. 


Portrait of twins by John Everett Millais from The Athenaeum

Photo (actually two women in Highland dress) from the State Library of Queensland.

Coloured picture from the Library of Congress.

The man in the kilt is Robert Lister McNeil, picture from Library of Congress.

8 comments:

  1. Moira - I have to start by saying I do love those 'photos, cop-out or not. I like traditional Scots wear. And I didn't make the connection between Violet Trefusis and Sasha until your post - *sigh.* It makes perfect sense of course. I'll be honest; not sure I'll read the story, but the background to it all is absolutely fascinating.

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    1. I think only a real completist would seek this book out and read it - I had been reading a lot on the era and the people, and took a fancy to it. But I read it so you don't have to!

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  2. Perhaps the twins are some 30's precursor of Jedward. (Lowering the tone again, sorry). My ignorance truly has no limits, never heard of VT, never read VW (never will either), hadn't heard of V S-W until earlier in the week.
    NM seems to ring a bell though.

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    1. I was thinking you probably had Camilla's family tree firmly established in your head... then again perhaps not.

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  3. Kilts, I love kilts. On men, mostly. All these relationships are too complicated for me.

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    1. Enjoy the kilt pictures and don't read it Tracy! As I said to Margot, I read it so you don't have to.

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  4. Have a look at www.violettrefusis.com

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    1. Very interesting, thanks for recommending that. Anyone interested in Violet Trefusis should visit the site.

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