Sunday, 8 November 2015

Dress Down Sunday: The Brandons by Angela Thirkell



published 1939



LOOKING AT WHAT GOES ON UNDER THE CLOTHES




Brandons DD pattern



‘I’m sorry to disturb you, madam,’ said Nurse, ‘but I thought I’d better speak to you. It’s about Miss Delia’s knickers,’ she continued, after a glance at the Vicar and a rapid decision that his cloth protected him. ‘She really hasn’t a pair fit to wear, not if she goes away to stay anywhere. I really don’t know what she does to them. So I thought if you didn’t need those three yards of that double-width pink crêpe de chine you got in the sales I could start on some at once. I’d just run down to the village on my bike before the shop shuts and see if Miss Thatcher can match me up some pink sewing silk.’

 
[Later] ‘It’s only Miss Delia’s knickers, madam,’ said Nurse in a stage whisper. ‘I’d be glad if she could come and try them on before she goes to bed so that I can finish them tonight.’
‘Go along then, darling,’ said Mrs Brandon…

 
[Later] ‘Well, now madam is alone it will be a good chance to show her Miss Delia’s —’

‘Dr Ford brought some very upsetting news, Nurse,’ said Mrs Brandon.

 
commentary: As you can see, this is a continuing theme in this splendid book. All the woman are unembarrassed, whereas the men find it difficult. Later on, young Mr Grant is witness when Nurse sees that Delia (the grown-up daughter of the house) has a ladder in her stocking:
Delia said she hadn’t a pair to wear except her good ones. Nurse with conscious magnanimity pointed to a pile of stockings on her table and said they were all mended and quite good enough for the garden. Delia, to Mr Grant’s embarrassment, immediately stripped off her stockings and, sitting on the table, put on one of the mended pairs.

Brandons DD stockings 2


Nurse then sends young Mr Grant to have a wash, leaving him
in such a state of terror that he spent two long minutes sitting on the side of the bath in case Nurse should think he wasn’t having a thorough wash.
Later they all go to the village Fete, where Delia loves the fairground rides, and wants to go on the roundabout, with its animal figures, over and over. There is some discussion over whether the young women should ride the animals astride or sidesaddle, and in one of my favourite clothes detail moments in the book, Delia’s friend Lydia says that ‘she had put on a frock with pleats on purpose, as she always felt sick if she rode sideways.’

This moment is combined with a set of – presumably innocent and accidental – double entendres of epic proportions concerning the large farmyard bird Lydia is about to climb onto. I’m not sure I can reproduce it, though I know Col – if he’s got this far – and Vicki/Skiourophile will be longing to hear it. I might put one of them in the comments. Unfair of us to judge Thirkell by modern standards.

Click on the Thirkell label below for more from this author.













22 comments:

  1. How interesting, Moira, that there's such a fixation on the knickers. In the conversations and in people's reactions (to the stockings, too, actually) you can see so much of the way people of the time thought. A real period piece, in that sense. One of the things that got my attention was how commonly accepted it was that you mend your stockings rather than by new if they get ladders in them.

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    1. Oh that's such a good point Margot! People wouldn't even think of it now, but it was routine then - and this was quite a well-off family.

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  2. Haha.....I'm having to stop my fingers from typing what I want to type....

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  3. I love Angela Thirkell and The Brandons is a particular favorite.

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    1. Good! They're real comfort reads aren't they?

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  4. You mended the runs in your stockings (and in an emergency stopped them running any further with a blob of clear nail varnish). Everyone then agreed not to "see" the mended runs. But you couldn't wear laddered stockings. (Of course you had some clear nail varnish - so useful for painting on the backs of books when they got tatty, varnishing interesting pebbles etc.)

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    1. I just about remember that, with the nail varnish. Non-run tights and stockings became a big thing didn't they, I don't know how the manufacturing changed...

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  5. Stockings in Thirkell's era were heavier -- higher denier number -- than is usual today. What a woman today would wear to the office would have been evening sheers at that time

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    1. Thanks for the info Ann, I didn't realize that - when people mention silk stockings in 30s books I always pictured something very filmy, but obviously I was wrong!

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  6. I think you're right -- I almost certainly can guess the bird, based on my filthy mind. I love all these quotes - especially the idea that the Vicar's calling provided an immunity from thoughts about knickers. I wonder how many knickers one can get out of 3 yards: presumably, given it's Nurse making them up, they aren't intended to be skimpy.

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    1. Yes indeed. My favourite line was 'He offered his [carousel] cock to Lydia, who immediately flung a leg over it.'
      When I was doing this post http://clothesinbooks.blogspot.co.uk/2015/05/dress-down-sunday-burning-summer-by.html I found a fabulous site (link in post) on making 30s and 40s knickers - but she's so good at doing customized patterns that there's not much info on quantities: it's a formula based on your own waist size. But between half a metre and a metre, depending on billowiness...

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  7. I traveled in Poland in 1961 and remember seeing tiny booths where an enterprising person (highly discouraged in Communist times) made a living by repairing ladders (US runs) in stockings. Hard to believe now. They used something like a minute crochet hook...

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    1. That's fascinating, thanks very much for sharing that. Our wastefulness does change doesn't it?

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  8. Moira, the part about young women riding astride or sidesaddle sounds amusing. In those days, I think, it had more to do with etiquette than clothes. Although women now sit astride on two-wheelers in India, you do find them sitting astride too, especially in towns and villages. How do they manage to hold on, on bumpy roads?

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    1. I know! People who actually do side-saddle claim it is quite safe and comfortable, but it's hard to believe.

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  9. My personal belief is that Thirkell put the double entendres in absolutely on purpose. There are quite a lot in her books.

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    1. Thanks for your input Helen, I go back and forth on this one. I love the fact that in one of the books there is a village called Winter Underclose, which is plainly deliberate. And she was a worldly and sociable woman, she must have had some awareness....

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  10. I love her books...have actually just finished rereading The Brandons for the God knows how many times. Just about to start of this:

    http://www.amazon.co.uk/Lillas-Feast-True-Story-Passion/dp/0552771880/?qid=1447581265&s=books&sr=1-13&keywords=ration+book+recipes&ie=UTF8&ref=sr_1_13#reader_0552771880


    I still repair tights if I put the toe out which I do quite often, a hang over from a mother and Grandparents who went through the war and wasted nothing. I remember my late mother re hooking stockings but have no idea how because I was too small to understand the process, I just know she did it.
    And when I was in secondary school in the early 80s I ripped my tights so badly one day that I simply had no choice but to take them off.
    My dear, the MORTIFICATION of having to go bare legged in a public formal place!
    I am not joking, I could have died, changed days. And not always for the better I feel.
    Re the side saddle, it isn't actually as bad as people think, one has to get used to it of course and it can be rather hell on the back initially, no good at all if you have a weak back. But it is the most enormous fun and the appropriate clothes are rather delish too, those dashing rising habits. That is if going in "costume".

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    1. Thanks for lovely info and stories! I have no ambition to ride in any way, astride or sidesaddle, but I love those riding costumes and habits, just wonderful.
      And yes I think everything was more fixed in the past, you had to be wearing what everyone else wore... though teenagers of every era can be mortified easily enough I think.
      That book looks fascinating.

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  11. I cannot say that the extract gave me any encouragement to read Thirkell. But that is just as well, there are other books more suited to me.

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    1. I think you can get your 30s fix from crime stories, either of the time or, like the Robert Barnard, written later....

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