Thursday, 31 March 2016

The Girl in the Leopard-skin Pants by Margery Sharp



short story from the collection The Lost Chapel Picnic
story published 1969
collection published 1973
 
 
girl in Leopardskin 2



As the girl in the leopard-skin pants, wearing her leopard-skin pants, entered the dining-room, every masculine eye lifted. So did many a wifely eye, to see how the head-waiter would deal with her. At dinner, at that nice hotel on an island half-an-hour’s flight from Athens, the rule was skirts.

girl in LeopardskinIt was a very nice hotel indeed. Nice, academic couples from Cambridge, Mass., and Oxford, England, reciprocally recommended it…. There wasn’t a single guest incapable of picking up Keatsian and Homeric references – unless it was the girl in the leopard-skin pants.

They weren’t of course actual pelt, but printed fabric. Stretch. Moulding with extreme neatness and accuracy her small, neat behind. On her upper half, over a minute brassiere printed to match, she had at least the grace to add a yellow silk shirt – or was it because at sunset the temperature dropped? In any case, she was still in pants, and though the rule against them wasn’t actually written up… it was universally respected.
girl in Leopardskin 3‘Mademoiselle – Signorina – Miss,’ apologized the head waiter, ‘in the restaurant, at dinner, the management prefers a skirt…’

‘I haven’t got one,’ said the girl simply.
 
 
commentary:  The collection containing this story is the one mentioned by Lissa Evans, the one that single-handedly provoked my recent post about the importance of libraries in our youth. Lost Chapel Picnic was the book that Lissa borrowed over and over from her local. Obviously I – already a fan of Sharp - had to obtain the book immediately, and then enjoy the fact that there was a story with this title, knowing before I even read it that it would give me a blog entry.

It’s a lovely book – full of the kind of stories that were easily found in magazines of the 1950s and 1960s, perhaps not so much now, and all with that wonderful Margery Sharp twist. They are, on the whole ‘romantic’ stories, ‘women’s magazine’ stories – though a couple are much darker. But they are funny and clever: Sharp has a kindness for humanity linked with an absolute unblinking clear-sightedness. She knows the worst humans can do, but she can forgive them and see the bright side.

The Leopardskin girl story is light and romantic, but also has its message about people and class. The Lost Chapel tells a wonderful story in a most unexpected way. There are love stories, and stories about crime and death. If there is a theme, it’s that given the right moment – a lucky chance, an unexpected 15 minutes – all kinds of good things can happen. (There is also a rather more materialistic theme of men in Rolls Royces carrying off willing young women.) I enjoyed the whole lot immensely, and will certainly read the book again, without having to go to the library to borrow it. Thanks – again – to Lissa.

Readers are lucky that I have decided not to use a picture of Clothes in Books in a pair of leopardskin pants, but I do assure you that I own such a garment. Last used (very recently) when I went to a fancy-dress party as Bet Lynch (former trash queen of the soap opera Coronation St, for my American readers).















22 comments:

  1. ...feverishly searching on Alibris...

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    1. Yes I think so, you should - it really is such an enjoyable book...

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  2. All right, you've now sparked our interest. We do need to see you in that fancy-dress getup. ;-) - In all seriousness, this sort of story may not be published as much any more, but it does sound like fun. And it takes talent to be able to also make some biting commentary on social class and attitudes at the same time.

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    1. You are right Margot, that's a very good summing-up of the book. As for me and my costume - strangely, may not be able to find the incriminating photos...

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  3. "As the girl in the leopard-skin pants, wearing her leopard-skin pants..."

    This is such a strange sentence. I can just see myself writing something similar (and in fact, I do so all the time), and then, a few minutes (or even days/weeks) later, coming back to it with shrieks of anguish and rapid deletion of the offending repetition.

    And yet, it has a kind of spontaneity to it.

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    1. I think it is a conscious stylistic tic, because she always is referred to as TGITLSP throughout. But it does read oddly in that passage...

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  4. What a great summation of this collection - you're so right; it's light but with a bitter-sweet edge. I think what drew me back again and again was the satisfying nature of the stories - in the end, the right thing happens, balance is restored, fairness - or a form of it - triumphs. As ever, thanks so much for following up the suggestion.

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    1. Such a good book - if I'd discovered it when I was young I would have loved it then and now. And you can never under-estimate Sharp's lightness - she has her moral framework too.

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  5. When my birthday comes around I intend to splurge on books, so this looks as though this one could end up on the list. I remember Stephen King saying how difficult it was to sell stories that don't easily fit within popular genres such as mystery or horror or SF. The type of magazines that bought them are simply not published any more.

    Somebody else remembers Bet Lynch! I mentioned the name to someone recently and got a blank stare in return. You start to feel very old (but not as old as a friend of mine who had a stay in hospital and found himself chatting with the twenty-something year old nurses; he mentioned his favourite movies, movie stars, records, TV shows and the like, and found that the nurses had never heard of any of them...)

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    1. Yes, there's no real market for certain forms of short story nowadays.
      The fancydress party was for two different age groups, and I did have to explain my costume to the younger ones - but they were more than satisfied with my 'soap opera trash queen' line.

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  6. Well, I was going to look for a pair of leopard-skin pants like the first photo, but then you went and mentioned Bet Lynch. I think I'll just look for the book instead :)

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    1. No! Find leopard-skin pants! Look cool AND stylish AND sophisticated. But do find the book too...

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  7. I wish I had leggings like this. Somewhere in my past I had a leopard-print scarf and a tiger-pring scarf. However, they were lost along the way.

    If I did have leopard-print leggings, I think at this point I wouldn't wear them in public.

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    1. I have always had a weakness for animal prints, particularly those from big cats... I am always prepared to consider a little something, even if I won't be wearing a whole outfit.

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  8. That's brave and adventurous.
    I was more so in my 20s, even early 30s, days of short skirts, tank tops, more daring attire. But aging and gravity shift a lot of things, so don't dare to take such risks.
    I loved animal prints in my younger days and I think scarves were my method to show them off.

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    1. Well scarves work for all ages and body types...

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  9. Yes, but I admire your bravery and chutzpah! I wish I
    still had it in my style.

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  10. This does sound like a good short story collection for me to try.

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    1. I loved these stories Tracy, and although mostly they are not crime, I think you would like them too.

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    2. I have found with short stories, genre does not matter so much. Some crime fiction short stories don't have much crime, anyway. Although so far I have concentrated mostly on short stories by crime fiction authors.

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    3. Oh that's interesting - I'll have to think about that...

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