[In a hotel in Rouen during the First World War: January 1918]
Nevertheless, three months ago, they had parted . . . Or he thought they had parted. Almost complete blankness had descended upon his home life. She appeared before him so extraordinarily bright and clear in the brown darkness that he shuddered: very tall, very fair, extraordinarily fit and clean even. Thoroughbred! In a sheath gown of gold tissue, all illuminated, and her mass of hair, like gold tissue too, coiled round and round in plaits over her ears. The features very clean-cut and thinnish; the teeth white and small; the breasts small; the arms thin, long and at attention at her sides. […]
He said: ‘I thought it might be rather dull . . . It’s six months since I danced . . . ’ She felt beauty flowing over all her limbs. She had a gown of gold tissue. Her matchless hair was coiled over her ears . . . She was humming Venusberg music: she knew music if she knew nothing else. […]
Tietjens said, ‘Hadn’t we better talk? . . . ’ She said: ‘In my room, then! I’m dog-tired . . . I haven’t slept for six nights . . . In spite of drugs . . . ’ He said: ‘Yes. Of course! Where else? . . . ’ Astonishingly . . . Her gown of gold tissue was like the colobium sindonis the King wore at the coronation.
observations: For more on these books, and the plot, click on the labels below.
These are 3 separate, and presumably deliberately repetitive, descriptions of what Sylvia Tietjens is wearing: every page is a mass of ellipses in these books, so it is difficult for me to use my usual method of indicating omission.
Christopher and Sylvia will go to her room, and all kinds of trouble will result. She is in France visiting her husband and perhaps others: he is fighting in the trenches of the Western Front but has come out to see her in Rouen.
As noted approvingly before, Ford gives us plenty of clothes detail, including, as Tietjens moves around the trenches:
McKechnie exclaimed: ‘Good God, man, you aren’t going out in nothing but your pyjamas. Put your slacks on under your British warm . . . ’‘British warm’ is an overcoat. There is also a discussion on the difference between flannel and flannelette, and the importance thereof in the treatment of sick children.
Throughout the books, Ford employs a strange reverse structure – he will start a chapter with people reflecting on past events, but you’re quite likely not to know what they are yet. Then comes a complicated scheme in which he follows various different views of the same scene, and it seems as though there must be some great revelation or twist, but usually there isn’t. My favourite bit in this book comes when, with a scene well under way, a character says ‘You are aware, sir, that I am under arrest.’ It is not a surprise to sir, but it is a huge surprise to the reader.
Finding out about the colobium sindonis mentioned above was an interesting trail – it’s one of several garments worn by the new monarch at an English coronation, but because of the infrequency of these events, and the reverence felt towards them, there are virtually no pictures. (It is apparently a problem with many coronations that no-one organizing them remembers – or was alive for – the previous one). It does seem clear that there is no one design for the garment – some are fancy and some are not. Looking at the dresses of the time, simplicity was not much to be found. So this dress, by Poiret, photo from the Library of Congress, seems a compromise.