1910 Pink Evening Gown with Black Lace and Cream Sash and Gloves based on The Intrusion of Jimmy by P.G. Wodehouse

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I just finished listening to The Intrusion of Jimmy by P.G. Wodehouse. I’ve mentioned it before on this blog, but I love listening to Wodehouse, because his stories are light and simple enough that I can miss parts if I get distracted by housework or chatter, but engaging enough that they keep my mind from dwelling on the dullness of dishwashing. Anyways, I’m always up for a story where boy meets girl, everything that can possibly cause boy maximum humiliation and trouble happens, but all comes right in the end.

The thing I liked best about this book was Jimmy’s character, because although a lot of Wodehouse’s heroes are rather more like Jimmy’s friend, Lord Dreever – the kind of laid-back fellow who pre-empts criticism by describing himself as “a bit of an ass” – Jimmy himself was curious, capable and generous. Now, the first two of those are rare enough, but he also seemed to have a darker side than any of the other Wodehouse heroes I can recall. At the beginning of the book, Jimmy makes a bet that he can break into someone’s house, and later that night a burglar happens to break into his own apartment; Jimmy disarms him, convinces him that he’s an infamous European jewel thief and gets the man to take him along on a burglary, all without turning a hair. It’s not like he views it as a lark; rather, he takes the whole thing quite seriously, breaking into someone else’s house almost as much out of curiosity as he did from the desire to win the bet. I guess his background as a reporter made his ability to keep so calm plausible, but still, that’s all pretty cold-blooded. Things like that made me feel that, as much as I liked him for his curiosity and wit, there was something about him that wasn’t quite right, and even though he never expressed the desire to steal so much as a rhinestone brooch, there was something about him that gave me the feeling that he very well could go in for a life of crime if it was interesting enough. It turns out that in the original story that the book was based on, Jimmy really had been a jewel thief! I somehow feel like he makes more sense to me now, although I can’t really hold his past incarnation against him.

Jimmy falls for a lovely girl named Molly, and taking the standard meet-cute love-at-first-sight Wodehouse pattern to new heights, he doesn’t ever actually talk to her during this process, but just admires her over the course of a five-day trans-Atlantic trip. I always figure that the Wodehouse heroines have the most marvelous, flattering, feminine clothes possibly available to humans, because eligible young men are always falling instantly in love with them, so it’s a disappointment for me that Wodehouse seldom describes dresses in detail. The book is from 1910, so here we have a 1910-style gown, with black lace over a pink dress. I do like the dresses I’ve seen from this year – the shape seems like a nice balance between the Edwardian shape and the straight-up-and-down lines that are coming.

By the way, I’ve never thought to look up what P.G. stood for; it turns out to be “Pelham Grenville.” Might have to swipe that one for our firstborn.

Prismacolors used: Kelp Green, Pale Sage, White, French Grey 10%, 20%, 50%, 70%, Light Umber, Dark Umber, Tuscan Red, Black, Cream, Pink Rose, Clay Rose

1915 Afternoon Dress in Blue and White Lace with Pink Rose Inspired By Uneasy Money By P.G. Wodehouse

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I’m listening to Uneasy Money by P.G. Wodehouse right now. I love listening to LibriVox audiobooks of Wodehouse’s stories, because they are just so darn cute and light-hearted, and I can space out a little with them when I’m doing the dishes. I’ve listened to so many now that I’m good at guessing who ends up with who. Not that it is all that much of a challenge once you get about a fifth of the way through the book, but I’m to the point where I have only to hear a name and I think things like “Ah, there’s our main love interest” or “He’s just a red herring, his job is going to be to cause trouble for our heroine.” But I haven’t finished the story yet, so even though I feel like I have comfortably predicted all the pairings, please don’t tell me how things are settled at the end!

When reading or listening to a book, I’m always unconsciously open to clues as to when it was set, but I haven’t heard any so far. However, Uneasy Money was serialized starting in 1915, so I think that’s a pretty reasonable date for a dress. I like 1915 fashion, actually, because the skirts get a little fuller than they were in 1914, and it’s really quite cute. Compare March 1914 to November 1915, and you’ll see what I mean.

Contest is over, as of 9:00 PM, and no one guessed the exact date. Brian and I were married on August 9, 2003, so the closest guess was Trazy’s guess of August 5th. Congratulations, Trazy, and tell me which black and white dress you’d like for me to color and how!

White Gown from “Mrs. Richard Bennett Lloyd” by Sir Joshua Reynolds, referenced in The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton

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I finished The House Of Mirth the other day, which I had been listening to (specifically this version, read by Elizabeth Klett). I love the book, and the reading was so well done, but… my chores really suffer when I’m listening to a depressing audiobook. When I have one that I can’t wait to return to, I do some dishes or take a walk just to have the excuse to listen to it, but when it’s one, like this one, where you can’t do anything but watch Lily Bart make bad choices, get humiliated and reach for that chloral, and you know what’s going to happen to her and you can’t skim to read faster, it is hard to listen to all twelve hours of it. It’s such a lovely book but oh, so sad…

This dress, then, is a reminder of happier times for Lily, when she triumphed in the tableaux, dressed and positioned as this painting of Mrs. Richard Bennett Lloyd (maiden name Joanna Leigh), painted in 1775 by Sir Joshua Reynolds. She was the hit of the evening: “She had shown her artistic intelligence in selecting a type so like her own that she could embody the person represented without ceasing to be herself. It was as though she had stepped, not out of, but into, Reynolds’s canvas, banishing the phantom of his dead beauty by the beams of her living grace.” There is so much description of character and so little description of physical characteristics in the book that it seems as if this is as close as we get to Lily herself…

The two best references I could find for this dress are this full picture and this detail. Since they’re not as large as I would like and you can’t see all the detail, the dress isn’t perfectly accurate. The sash is, I think, entirely wrong, but for the life of me I cannot figure out how the bunched-up green drapery at the back actually works as part of a dress. I studied it, I sketched it, I brought it into Photoshop and played with the levels and contrast and brightness and it just seems to me like a big clump of fabric stuck to her side, so I decided to turn it into a sash and not worry about it. So please don’t use this in your “House of Mirth” book report, and should you get a chance to see this painting in person, please don’t leave me a comment about how I didn’t get it right. Or if you do, at least take some pictures for me.

So, now I’m listening to Deadwood Dick’s Doom; or, Calamity Jane’s Last Adventure, which means that there are buckskins waiting for Sylvia and Iris…

Very interesting answers to the poll so far, by the way! I wonder how much it would have changed if I had had a “from Go Fug Yourself” option… I posted the link to the Bai Ling green and purple outfit in the first few comments of the final Fug Madness post, and I got a ton of traffic for that post…

Lily Bart’s White Edwardian Tea Gown with Pink Rose Sash from The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton

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Now that I’m done with The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, I do think it’s time for another depressing period piece. This time I’m listening to The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton, read for Librivox by Elizabeth Klett. I’ve read it before, but I’m actually preferring audiobooks lately because I don’t skim so much and get more of the details, and I’ve been thinking of this book since I read this New York Times article about Lily’s fate

So far there hasn’t been much description of individual dresses, but there’s so much about the culture that those dresses form such a part of. Here’s Lily Bart talking about marriage with Lawrence Selden: “Your coat’s a little shabby–but who cares? It doesn’t keep people from asking you to dine. If I were shabby no one would have me: a woman is asked out as much for her clothes as for herself. The clothes are the background, the frame, if you like: they don’t make success, but they are a part of it. Who wants a dingy woman? We are expected to be pretty and well-dressed till we drop–and if we can’t keep it up alone, we have to go into partnership.”

Well, even if the book does promise to be melancholy, there is a silver lining: the dresses from the Belle Époque are beautiful, even if Sylvia isn’t quite the desired S-shape. I remember later on she wears some form of white dress, but there’s not a lot of physical description in the book so it’s based more on vintage gowns from 1904 and 1905 I’ve been looking at, particularly this one.