[Harriet D. Vane is questioning the Senior Common Room of her Oxford college]
‘Who, by the way, owns a black semi-evening crêpe-de-chine, figured with bunches of red and green poppies, with a draped cross-over front, deep hip-yoke and flared skirt and sleeves about three years out of date?’ She looked round the dining-room, which was by now fairly well filled with dons. ‘Miss Shaw – you have a very good eye for a frock. Can you identify it?’
‘I might if I saw it,’ said Miss Shaw. ‘I don’t recollect one like it from your description.’
‘Have you found one?’ asked the Bursar.
‘Another chapter in the mystery?’ suggested Miss Barton.
‘I’m sure none of my students has one like it,’ said Miss Shaw. ‘They like to come and show me their frocks. I think it’s a good thing to take an interest in them.’
‘I don’t remember a frock like that in the Senior Common Room,’ said the Bursar.
‘Didn’t Miss Wrigley have a black figured crêpe-de-chine?’ asked Mrs. Goodwin.
‘Yes,’ said Miss Shaw. ‘But she’s left. And anyhow, hers had a square neck and no hip-yoke. I remember it very well.’
observations: That’s a pretty specific dress description isn’t it? From when I first read this book, many years ago, I was puzzled by her using the words ‘three years out of date’ as a way of summoning a visual image – would not ‘wide sleeves’ or ‘tight sleeves’ or ‘leg of mutton sleeves’ be more to the point? Or, in fact, showing the garment to the women?
The dress has been used to make a kind of dummy or guy, which has a cap and gown over it and is found hanging and knifed in the college chapel. Someone really doesn’t like the women academics of Shrewsbury College: the anonymous letters were just the beginning.
It’s poison pen week on the blog, and Gaudy Night is a classic of the genre – the book has appeared before for sunbathing and for a handsome young man. It is a book that divides readers, because the exact features that make it infuriating to a non-fan, are those that the true believers love.
Here (in part) is what I said about it in an early entry:
Gaudy Night should by all standards be a tiresome book. There is no murder, and when the culprit for the various vandalistic crimes is revealed it is not at all convincing that the revenge would take this form. There are endless scenes where DLS puts her own opinions into approved characters’ mouths, and then has (less clever and attractive) others arguing with those views and being defeated.Tomorrow there will be an overview of poison pen mysteries, and a couple of lists, and also a highly unlikely connection between Dorothy Sayers and Enid Blyton. More books later in the week. Click on the poison pen label below for more entries.
But it has a special place in the affections of hard-core fans of Dorothy L Sayers – even though there are also long descriptions of the day-by-day running of a women’s college in the 1930s, and the social AND intellectual snobbery run unchecked. Good sociological interest, as we like to say when we can’t explain why we like books.
The picture is a 1938 Vogue picture (NOT three years out of date!) from the lovely Clover Vintage Tumblr and is not a bad match, IF you just look at it very quickly. Sayers herself took clothes very seriously but was famed for a rather odd fashion sense.