Tuesday, 17 January 2012

An Age of Courtesies...

Last night, I caved in and as a result, book number three is on the go...The Nonesuch by Georgette Heyer. This is my other type of comfort reading - I tell myself it's grown up comfort reading, and it's maybe a little less odd than being seen on the ferry commuting to work up to my eyes in a brightly dust jacketed children's book!

I love Heyer's Regency romances, they're great fun. But, as anyone who knows anything about the period would know, they're also very well researched which is, I think, one of the reasons I enjoy them so much. The way people lived in different periods fascinates me. Remember the Regency House series on television, from the BBC (early reality TV...)? It took a group of people and set them up in a big house in the country to live as people in the Regency period would have during a house party. Some of them were staff, and others were the house guests, all dressed in authentic clothing from the period, eating the food, and engaging with typical pastimes. Things I'd only read about - in Georgette Heyer, of course! - I watched happening over the course of the show.

The fashion is fascinating - the things that are fashionable in different times, and really intriguingly, the parts of the body that are regarded as sexy... The women wore those high waisted dresses dresses that were ankle length. A flash of ankle was a real possibility, which was considered very fast, because there weren't miles of fabric, or floor dragging skirts. But, unlike later in the Victorian period, breasts could be spilling out of low cut bodices, and quite often, they wore very short sleeves. Really flighty young misses were known to damp flimsy evening frocks down so they clung to the contours of their bodies... In contrast, the men seemed to wear inordinate numbers of garments in any one outfit and there were a whole lot of different styles they could adhere to - the Dandies, the Corinthians, and a host of others. A breadth of shoulder and chest, and well shaped calves were much admired. For those not so well built, padding in the shoulders of jackets was incorporated, and their tailors designed very wide lapels to create the illusion of a broad chest. They also - and this cracked me up - padded their calves!

I watched Bright Star again just a week or so ago, the beautiful Jane Campion film about Yeates and his muse Fanny, who was a noted designer and seamstress. They must have had the most wonderful time with the wardrobe for that movie, and it is another, like the most recent film version of Pride and Prejudice with Keira Knightley, where they didn't sanitise it overly. Skirts DO drag in wet grass and muddy puddles, the girls DO struggle to slog through nasty weather with shirts wrapping themselves around their legs, and their hair is just pulled up into little buns when they're at home - the more elaborate braids and curls are reserved for special occasions.

Regency wasn't my best period - spending fifteen years in an opera chorus meant dressing in clothes from all sorts of different eras. My Act II costume for Tchaikovsky's Eugene Onegin was one of the biggest jokes in the chorus - multiple puffed sleeves, braid trim on every edge, a hat like my Granny's best tea cosy (seriously!) and all in the delightful colour combination of bilious pale green and dull mauve. I did a bit better in the Act III ball gown, which was black with silver sparkles all over it - but it was the hair... I used my own, rather than a wig - it was waist length at the time. The back section was pulled up into a tight, high bun. The front section was parted in the middle and twisted back and around the bun. The crowing glory was the wiglets...tiny combs of glossy ringlets that were tucked in at the sides just behind my temples - they looked like poodle ears!! They were disastrous under the tea cosy. They kind of worked with the ball gown, which was accessorised with lots of sparkly bling, including a small tiara. The photographs have all been packed in box - so sad... - or I could have, maybe, included them in this post...possibly. Then again, possibly not too!!

The memories that every book I read trigger amaze me. Knowing that we never truly forget anything we experience - it's all filed way in there somewhere - doesn't really surface in my mind until I have a random experience that triggers a memory of something that I haven't thought about for many years. Sometimes that's a good thing, sometimes, as a friend of mind said last night while we were chatting, when the past comes back to visit, I just don't want to talk to it!

Georgette Heyer has been on my bookcases for many years. I started with her via the local library and gradually acquired the odd one or two. Then, I had a few years when I kept finding hard covers in second hand book stores. Sadly, they don't seem to be around so much these days, so I don't know whether I'll manage to get hold of the rest of the collection - I have about half of what she wrote.

And now, it's well and truly time for me to sign off and get ready for work - with Heyer in in my bag for the ferry!

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