Dress Down Sunday: She Won’t Need Them Now


the book:  Except The Dying by Maureen Jennings

published 1997

from regular guest blogger Colm Redmond



LOOKING AT WHAT GOES ON UNDER THE CLOTHES



Murdoch 2


They started with the boots, which looked new. They tried to hurry but their fingers were already stiff and clumsy with cold and the buttons were troublesome. The second boot was particularly difficult. She was curled up on her side against the fence and the leather had fastened to the earth in an icy bond. It took both of them to get it off, one holding on to the frozen leg, by now stiff as stone, the other tugging until the boot came away. Next was the waist, a decent black sateen, but in their haste they pulled on her arm too sharply and they heard the bone snap as the elbow dislocated. “Be more respectful,” said the younger one.

They removed the felt hat next. The pink velvet flowers around the brim were crushed by the weight of the head and dusted with snow light as sugar. The skirt came off easily, as did the woollen stockings. There were no gloves and, disappointingly, there was no jewellery to speak of … One of them started to pull out the wooden combs that pinned up the girl’s hair. “No, don’t,” said the other. “She won’t need them now,” her companion replied. In the darkness their breath came from their mouths like smoke.

The corpse was clad now only in white flannel drawers and chemise, the blue-grey skin of legs and arms blending with the snow where she lay. They considered leaving her, considered stopping at the final indignity, but the cloth of the undergarments was good and they had gone this far.
 
 
Murdoch 1



observations: This extract starts with the first words of the first of seven novels about William Murdoch, a detective in 1890s Toronto. It might almost have been designed to make it into Clothes In Books, and on Dress Down Sunday too. But we can’t quite accuse Maureen Jennings of that, when she was writing more than a decade before CiB started.

It is soon obvious that the person being stripped is deceased, but it’s relevant to the plot later on who’s doing the disrobing, so I won’t go into that. Her “waist” in this context means a blouse. Her outside clothes would have looked much like those of the three ladies with the spectacular quiffs: it’s surprising to see that hairdo in 1902 (although, no doubt someone will correct that statement in the Comments…) but as far as I can tell that’s when the photo was taken. The connection with the surprising shot of a young [Dame] Judi Dench in old-fashioned possibly-woollen stockings is a bit more tenuous; but the photo had to be used some time. No excuse too weak.

If you’ve seen the Canadian TV show Murdoch Mysteries, you’ll know that the detective is a devout Catholic - problematic in a society and police force dominated by Protestants and Masons - and has a bluff northern English boss called Brackenreid and a faithful constable called Crabtree. These are all true in the books too, but the similarities pretty much end there. Brackenreid is a rough diamond in the show, whereas in the books he’s just rough, there are few redeeming features visible most of the time. The Crabtree of the TV show has a big heart and is over-enthusiastic, but he’s shrewd and clever and imaginative and often points Murdoch in the right direction without getting much credit. In the books he’s physically massive, and more of a blunt instrument in Murdoch’s service than anything else.

Murdoch himself is more cool and suave in the show than the hesitant, socially awkward innocent we’re used to from the internal monologue of the books. But he is of course utterly honest and reliable in both incarnations, and perhaps cleverer and more attractive than he realises.

The books are dark. They go digging into the underclass quite a lot, showing how difficult life in late-Victorian times was for the poor or disadvantaged – the latter including nearly all women, even if they were well off. There are TV movies of three of them. You can see the film of this first book on YouTube.

The TV show meanwhile is light hearted, by murder mystery standards, a bit like Murder, She Wrote or Rosemary & Thyme; and drifts into pure comedy for episodes at a time. It often features real-life characters in doubtless fictional adventures.

To read more from the guest blogger, click on his name below.











Comments

  1. Ohh! Those are the Callot sisters! THEY would, of course, have been right up to the second in fashion for 1902. Those asymetrical lumpy things were all the rage. I have the black velvet dress that they made for DORIS KEANE, for the 1915 production of "ROMANCE" in London. I suppose I should try to do something to commemorate the 100th anniversary this year.

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    1. Thanks, Ken, I knew somebody would help me out. Now, by "those asymmetrical lumpy things" do you mean the hairdos or the sisters...? I'm showing my ignorance here, I have to say I know nothing about the Callot Sisters. Did they design clothes?

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    2. Callot Soeurs was a couture house in Paris from the 1890's to somewhere in the 30's I think. Their clientele tended to be a bit more artsy than the patrons of houses like Worth and included leading actresses of the day. Their head seamstress was Madelaine Vionnet who went on to found her own house in the 20's and beyond, famous for all those slinky, bias cut gowns of the 30's. Oops, I should have specified hair... Just around 1900, there was a fashion for hairstyles like this which included puffs of hair that came up off the forehead, but oddly to one side. They do make more sense if you see the large hats tipped to one side that went on top. That particular trend didn't last for long, and the more evenly built pompadour that we imagine the Gibson girls wearing followed right behind.
      I get to plead ignorance too. Being a Canadian, i've watched many episodes of the Murdoch Mysteries, but I didn't realize that they were based on books! Now I shall have to look them up, and see how they compare. The reference to Doris Keane is a connection to Mitford's "Love in a Cold Climate" where Cedric turns up at a ball dressed as "Doris Keane in "Romance" and a black wig", the lure that drew me to this lovely blog in the first place.

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    3. thanks for this, Ken. Ah, I remember that Romance thing now you mention it. I'm a bit disappointed that these lumps are not really quiffs, though.

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  2. I have admit, Colm, I've not seen the show. But I admit to being a bit of a cranky purist about adaptations of books, so I'd probably read the books first. From what you've shared here, I think I'd like Jennings' writing style. And the context sounds really interesting, too. Thanks for sharing.

    And thanks, Moira, for hosting Colm.

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    1. Margot, I think there's no guarantee at all that a fan of the books would like the tv series or vice versa. But, to be fair, only the tv films are based directly on the books and - from memory - they are much more like them. It's all splendid, from my point of view, but I know a large proportion of CiB regulars are crime novel purists so I can't vouch for the tv version.

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  3. What a joy to see a review of this book, and you have captured it so well.

    I have only read the first two novels in the series, now I am inspired to read Poor Tom is Cold, which has been sitting on my book piles for a while. We did watch all the three TV movies with Peter Outerbridge and Colm Meaney and loved them. Tried the first episode in the TV series and were not so thrilled so did not go any further.

    The photo of Judi Dench is lovely.

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  4. Tracy, you're missing a treat - albeit a treat of a quite different sort to the books. Nikola Tesla being a major player in ep1 was just the start. Since then we've had Edison (and his son) a few times, Arthur Conan Doyle being an enthusiastic amateur detective just like in Arthur & George, and even the US President (McKinley) showed up the one time Murdoch strayed below the border into the States.

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    1. When we watched the first episode of Murdoch Mysteries, it did remind me of The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr. which had elements of steampunk and we enjoyed a lot. Maybe I will give it a try again. We just have so much of a backlog of TV on DVD and shows to stream, it is hard to add more.

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    2. Murdoch (in the series) is for ever inventing technology he needs that doesn't really exist, or else that he's only read about. He uses UV light, fingerprinting, he makes a seismograph one time, he always knows all about the cutting edge developments in electricity... And his mate Crabtree is obsessed with UFOs and the like, they go off into X-Files territory from time to time. There's an ep that makes jokey reference to the Indiana Jones movies. Buffalo Bill and Annie Oakley have been in it. In the latest season or two, women's rights activisim is a major feature. It's all rattling good fun and quite arch in the way it flirts with anachronism.

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    3. It does sound like fun, Colm. I often enjoy series based on books, without the series having to be identical. I consider them separates entities, or maybe alternate timelines. Will have to go back to these. I think our problem was trying these after the TV movies, and we really liked those characters.

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  5. Dame Judi's stockings are probably "lisle". Maybe originally wool, but nylon by my day! Thick, and the colour of a strong cup of tea.

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    1. Ah, yes. The colour of strong tea seems like just something she would choose! Thanks, Lucy.

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  6. I am sad to say I have not read any of the books. My intentions remain good. Poor Tom is above my computer. I had wanted to read at least a book in the series before watching the series but you may have changed my mind.

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    1. I think you may as well think of the books and the series as separate entities, Bill, and feel empowered to plough ahead with either or both!

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  7. The darkness of the books is quite tempting, but I've too many already without adding

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