30 June 2009

As far as bathing suits go, this one is pretty bleh--drop-waisted bathing suits flatter no one, not even this preternaturally thin Vogue illustration lady--however, all will be forgiven because CAPE!!

The pink version would be rad made up in shin vinyl, like a raincoat (raincape?), but the best part of the envelope is View B, wherein the Vogue illustrator gave up the silly notion that any woman would wear such a cape for any purpose other than to be a Bohemian French spy. She is clearly none other than Madame Clouseau on her way home from a jewel heist and clandestine tryst.

In other news, I have finished (finally) the dress I've been working on. I'd provide a photo, but I'm too lazy to get up and find the dress or the camera. It came together well, although I had to do some last minute taking in of the bust, as well as some extra bust gathers, to make it fit at the top. I had planned to cut the dress I'm making for Bronwyn today--it's a Vogue repro design and I'm doing it up in this fabric:

Yes, those are tiny books. Tiny red books. You can't see it in this picture, but they are tiny red books that have little covers reading "LABOR." It's going to go swimmingly!

22 June 2009

Re: In search of lost 19th century novelists

Woke up this morning to this post at Little Professor about lost 19th century novelists. It's a subject that comes up a lot whenever I talk to other Victorianists, but which I have only infrequently observed in earlier time periods. It's funny, though, how we (and by we I mean other Victorianists, or 19th-centurists, more broadly) think of lost vs. found. I mean, which groups are we talking about, here, anyway?

For example, Wilkie Collins. Very very popular in his day, and still instantly recognizable to the most average Brit--but rarely taught even to English majors in the states. Trollope is another good one. I rarely hear of him being on syllabi, and he appears known across the pond almost exclusively because of BBC adaptations--people have generally heard of him and have a vague idea that he is someone they should have read, but if you ask for a list of big-name 19th century novelists he is immediately squashed under DICKENS, ELIOT, HARDY, THACKERY etc. and rarely can anyone remember the titles of his novels (which is really sad, because they have excellent titles).

Elizabeth Gaskell is another of that list. I might have passed through all my undergraduate years without encountering her had it not been for Christine Cozzens excellent syllabus for a class called 'The Woman Question in Victorian Literature.' We read Ruth, which I think rarely makes it onto reading lists, overshadowed in the world of 19th-century novels about unwed mothers from the lowerish classes impregnated by rakish members of the upperish classes by Tess of the D'Ubervilles. In graduate school, I read both Sylvia's Lovers and Cranford, and it was not so much any one of them that convinced me of her talent, but the combination of all three. Each is so distinct in style and flavor--Cranford in particular is a sharp contrast in that it is nearly completely plotless, and yet is quite vibrant and readable, very funny, and seems laden with import even though the greatest plot point is a cow who wears pajamas.

So anyway, at the moment I'm reading Wives and Daughters, her last and almost-but-not-quite finished novel (I'm sort of looking forward to an unresolved end), which I have to say is pretty much blowing me away. Molly Gibson, the little heroine, is such a perfect character. She's somehow a direct descendent of both Fanny Price and Maggie Tulliver, at once obedient and dull while also managing outbursts of anger, dismay, and defiance. Gaskell's plot is reminiscent of some of the more re-used fairy tales (young, pretty daughter of widower encounters stepmother of dubious motives, stepsister of dubious morals--hijinx insue), but she layers it into a very textured world. Like Eliot, she is fond of in-jokes and jabs, a sarcastic and wry hand pervades, but she's also capable of startlingly astute scenes.

In closing, I'd like to leave y'all with this scene, which shows just how well Gaskell understands the pitfall of the fairytale plotline. Like Cinderella, or Snow White, or any of the other such girls, Molly has received the advice that to cope with her father's approaching marriage it is her responsibilty to accommodate everyone, to be good and self-effacing, to put everyone else's feelings before her own. If she is good, everything will be for the better. She responds:

"'I did try to remember what you said, and to think more of others, but it is so difficult sometimes; you know it is, don't you?'

'Yes,' he said, gravely.... 'It is difficult,' he went on,' but by and by you will be so much happier for it.'

'No, I shan't!' said Molly, shaking her head. 'It will be very dull when I shall have killed myself, as it were, and live only in trying to do, and to be, as other people like. I don't see any end to it. I might as well never have lived. And as for the happiness you speak of, I shall never be happy again.'

There was and unconscious depth in what she said, that Roger did not know how to answer at the moment; it was easier to address himself to the assertion of the girl of seventeen, that she should never be happy again.

'Nonsense: perhaps in ten years' time you will be looking back on the trial as a very light one--who knows?'

'I dare say it seems foolish; perhaps all our earthly trials will apear foolish to us after a while; perhaps whey seem so now to angels. But we are ourselves, you know, and this is now, not some time to come, a long, long way off. And we are not angels, to be comforted by seeing the ends for which everything is sent.'"

14 June 2009


So, I recently purchased a copy of McCall's Complete Book of Dressmaking by Marian Corey. It's from the fifties and is completely fabo. The full color illustrations alone would be worth the paltry sum I paid for it, but the glossary and instructions are excellent--particularly since Ms. Corey clearly has a preference for hand-techniques, so a lot of the stitches and techs in the back of the book are fancy lap work (which I always prefer).

The funniest part of the book, though, is the section on how to select becoming patterns. A woman should always dress in a becoming fashion, and should avoid all things that make her unbecoming. Her advice for the short and slender is absolutely ludicrous--all of it stuff that if I tried to wear it I would look so overwhelmed and clownish. Short girls should apparently never wear short skirts--their skirts should be as long as humanly possible, and if short skirts are in fashion they should hide in shame from them until they go out of style again. We should also never wear belts at the waist, or mary jane style shoes (ok, so that last bit is something I read in Fashion Mags to this day). We should be lax about fitting the bodices of our blouses, as the extra room will disguise our lack of chestiness. Slim shoulders should be disguised by humongous puffy sleeves and copious use of shoulder pads. Our jackets should be cut as long as possible to make us look longer.

Can you imagine me in a floor-length skirt, too-big blouse with shoulder pads and puffy sleeves to my wrists, a long jacket to my knees? I would look about 2" tall.

I think the skirt needs to be a little longer--what do y'all think?