Tuesday, 9 September 2014

Lucy Carmichael by Margaret Kennedy: part 3

published 1951 






Lucy was, all this while, in the girls’ dressing-room at the theatre, changing for the party, while the others removed their grease-paint. She threw off her smock, made up her face, and changed her shoes and stockings. Then she took from its hanger a sheeted dress which she had brought up with her before the performance. As she settled the skirt about her hips, a gasp went up from all her young companions.

“OH, LUCY!”





She had never worn it in Ravonsbridge, had never worn it anywhere, for it was intended for those very distinguished parties to which she might have gone as Patrick Reilly’s bride. It was made from a rich brocaded silk, given to her as a wedding present, in a pink so pale that only the rosy shadows of its folds proclaimed the hue. She had felt a sudden impulse to wear it, though it was far too good for such a party. No suitable occasion was ever likely to occur in her life now, and it was stupid to let the lovely thing rot, unworn and unadmired, year after year, in her wardrobe.

“What’s it made of?...Is it an heirloom?” 


“No,” said Lucy. “It’s Chinese tribute silk. That’s what the person said who gave me the stuff. But don’t ask me what it means, for I don’t know.”


observations: See earlier entries for more about this book.

This is the key moment in a certain kind of book: the fashion makeover. Lucy has been extremely miserable after being jilted, and she has been working hard and concentrating on other things. Now, she will get to wear the beautiful dress and impress everyone. But this is by no means the climax of the book, and the party she will adorn in the dress, and the men she will enchant, are by no means the whole story.

There are many felicities in the book: a scatty musician, thinking about his beloved, hums a trumpet voluntary:
to which fanfare he expected, some day, to escort Melissa out of church, while executing it in person on the organ. The event was still so distant that he had not yet troubled to consider how he was to be in two places at once.
And the bad jilting boyfriend (who never really appears) is given a going-over when someone describes him as an explorer:
Melissa looked doubtful. “I wouldn’t call him that. What has he explored?”
“Doesn’t he go to places and write books about them?”…
“I think he’s bogus. He can climb the foothills of the Himalaya, and write about it as if he’d been up Everest [still unconquered at the date of the book. See this recent entry]. If he went up the Eiffel Tower I believe he’d write a book about it called Parisian Escapade, and there would be a waiting list for it at the libraries. No real adventurer has half so much façade. His talent is for blowing his own trumpet. We’ve all had adventures.”

Many a modern TV presenter could do with reading that.

Getty Images have been a no-go area for bloggers up till recently, but they have generously decided to make some of their vast catalogue available for non-profit concerns. This is my first use: evening dresses from 1950s fashion shows. In the book there is much comment on the neckline of Lucy’s dress: it is never described fully, but we are told that it is like one worn by the then-Princess Elizabeth (as in the other picture), and that it is not entirely strapless or very revealing. This made these images hard to find, as it seems that most very grand early 50s ballgowns and evening dresses were generally very lowcut.

The best I can do on ‘tribute silk’ is this from Wiki – ‘Chinese state entities have paid tribute to a number of states and confederations throughout history’, and the tributes regularly included silk.


*****ADDED LATER  The blog has a great friend in JS -  see contribution on Kipling,  frequent help with translation, and the occasional photo

She says that tribute silk is the very best silk, and points out this from Mathews' Chinese-English dictionary to prove it:



Margaret Kennedy's other great contribution to the blog, apart from this book, is The Constant Nymph, and the fascination of its place in popular culture.  

13 comments:

  1. Moira - Oh, those 'makeover moments!' Even when they're not pivotal plot points, they really can add to the story. I rather like the attitude that's expressed here, too, about what it means to be an 'explorer.' You know a description is bang on when you can think of real-life examples of exactly that sort of person. And you know it's funny; I'm not the sort who usually goes for those grand 1950's-style formal evening dresses. But that one does sound wonderful... Oh, and so good to hear about Getty Images.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I loved the 'explorer' putdown from across the years - I'd thought it was a modern phenomenon! And yes, there's a whole story to be unpicked in the idea of dresses that are not practical, or sensible, or cost-efficient - but somehow we all like the idea of wearing one or having one at least once in our lives.

      Delete
  2. I thought the chandelier was on her head in the top picture (she said sheepishly.)

    But that elaborate light is very similar to enormous headpieces worn by Rockettes and dancers in Las Vegas clubs -- and they weight a ton. They can barely walk in them, more or less dance.

    Chinese tribute silk makes sense. China is known for having had and traded silk over the centuries. Why wouldn't it be a gift given in tribute? I still have some lovely jackets made by Chinese silk.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Lucky you with the jackets. And now whenever I look at that picture I'm going to see the lamp as a head-dress...

      Delete
  3. Fascinating Moira (especially considering it so far out of my usual area of interest - always good to learnign somethign new) - and great pics too!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks, Sergio, what a nice compliment. It's the fun of blogging and visiting others isn't it? You take me into new zones too.

      Delete
  4. Any particular presenters in mind? I can think of a few. Not a book for me to be worrying about, thanks.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I think there's no shortage of people answering to that description, but I won't name them. Probably not the ideal book for you...

      Delete
  5. I am still not sure about this book although it continues to interest me. However, I AM more interested in The Constant Nymph (because of the movie).

    The first thing I thought when I opened this post was "how did she get Getty images?" so I am glad you explained that. And they are very lovely images.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I don't think I'll be using them all the time - they're a bit fiddly, and you can see above I couldn't get the text blocks to work properly! But it's nice to have another resource, I like having plenty of places to search for photos.
      Constant Nymph is a better bet than this one - and you've practically read this one by the time you've seen all my blogposts on it! (Much more clothes than in Nymph.)

      Delete
  6. Here is a link to a page of photos of Rockettes, some with amazing headdresses. It's quite remarkable how they could dance wearing these heavy weights on their heads. Scroll down for the variety.
    https://www.google.com/search?q=rockettes+in+costume+with+headdresses&client=firefox-a&hs=TQ1&rls=org.mozilla:en-US:official&channel=np&tbm=isch&tbo=u&source=univ&sa=X&ei=RFsRVPqZNPWPsQSX7oLwBA&ved=0CB8QsAQ

    I just learned about The Constant Nymph, another classic for my movie list.

    And, yes, I have a few light-weight Chinese silk jackets, just rinse out and hang up, no ironing needed. Love them. (Bought for me by the opera singer in my family.)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. What an amazing collection of pictures -Thanks Kathy. I am very impressed if they danced in them - in London and Paris the tradition was that the dancers kept the costumes light, but there were also showgirls, who didn't actually do more than step in time in rows, who were there to be looked at - they were the ones with the giant head-dresses.
      I already knew you were lucky with your sister - now even more so!

      Delete
  7. A gem she is! Smart, lovely, musical, a great friend and sister -- and she has good taste in clothes and jewelry! I lucked out!

    ReplyDelete