Saturday, 26 April 2014

The Edwardians by Vita Sackville-West part 2

published 1930 set in 1905






[Sylvia Lady Roehampton is attending a State Ball at Buckingham Palace]

So she loitered, having come out of the cloak-room only to face an unexpected mirror that returned to her, full-length, the image of the complete woman she might have postulated from the head-and-shoulders revealed to her in the mirror propped on the cloak-room table. There, she had scrutinised a lovely head, something after the manner of Lely, she thought – having been told so innumerable times – and the bare shoulders, oyster satin, and pearls of Lely, all of which she affected on state occasions because she knew they accorded with her type of beauty. Here, in the long mirror, she saw herself not only as a kit-cat, but full-length: oyster satin flowing out at her feet, pearls vanishing into the valley between her breasts, pearls looped round her wrists, a rosy scarf tossed round her shoulders. She wore no tiara… Lady Roehampton was an unconventional woman… Satisfied by the image that the mirror returned to her, she gave herself a little smile.




observations: I wrote a recent blogpost on bad mothers - here at CiB and at the Guardian - and this book was one I mentioned as being full of examples. The various mothers are heartless and unable to understand their daughters, ready to marry them off to the highest bidder. The daughter of the woman above, in love with a penniless artist, is told by Sylvia’s friend to marry the Lord who is also on the scene and, with a hideous wink, ‘we’ll see what can be done about the painter afterwards.’

Sylvia is later in the book said to have ‘suffered’ greatly by being brave and rebellious: she flouted conventions by appearing as a Queen in a public pageant, and had an affair with her friend’s teenage son. So I got quite excited by an incident at the Ball above:

Could she indeed give two fingers to the Viceroy-designate without thinking of the India he would govern?
Perhaps she really was a rebel? But no, it means that she greeted him by offering 2 fingers to shake. 

I love pageants in books so much (I'd do an entry every week if I could) that I am going to add in a photo (right) of how Sylvia might have looked as Queen Etheldreda, Queen of Beauty (yes really), even though it isn't described in the book.


There is an Author’s Note saying ‘No character in this book is wholly fictitious’. Meanwhile, one of the characters, Romola Cheyne (she doesn’t really appear, she’s a whisper in the background), is plainly meant to be Alice Keppel, mistress of Edward VII and, intriguingly, mother of Violet Trefusis, one of the great passions of Vita’s life.

The main picture, by William MacGregor Paxton, comes from The Athenaeum website – none of the Lelys looked at all the way Sylvia sounds.


The smaller picture is from a suffragette pageant in 1913, and comes from the Library of Congress.

8 comments:

  1. This is where we diverge on our tastes in books. I think I'd sooner boil my head in a pot than be subjected to this one. Not saying it's a bad book or wouldn't be enjoyed by many, just not one for me.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Can't argue with you - this one is probably about as far from the point where our tastes meet as it is possible to be. No Mitfords, though.

      Delete
  2. Moira - Your post makes me think of all of those cases at that time (and of course other times too!) where young women were traded like dry goods for a 'blue blood' connection or money (or both) or something else. So many of them 'did their duty' too and went through with the marriage. I can't imagine doing that or expecting my daughter to do such a thing.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It makes the blood run cold doesn't it? I know some of them lived lives of great luxury in other ways, but the lack of freedom and the commercialization of marriage was horrible.

      Delete
  3. I love that author's note. The main picture is gorgeous, the one at the bottom is interesting.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks Tracy - I was really pleased with the top one, it seemed to fit the extract, and was very beautiful too.

      Delete
  4. I'm so glad pageants had disappeared by my day. See George Orwell's A Clergyman's Daughter. (She loses her memory and comes to in a London street wearing a black satin dress and evening shoes that aren't hers...)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. If I read it, it was a long time ago. I'm so going to have to find it and do a blog entry....

      Delete