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Archive for August 11th, 2015

DemelzaPt5Ep3
Demelza in characteristic hat delighted to look at a poster for a troop of actors come to Truro

Dear friends and readers,

As Anibundel suggests, the way to understand and enjoy costume dramas is to look at the costumes. What more indicative than hats?

Spurred on by her fun discoveries of who wears what hat in the 2015 Poldark, I looked at the state of millinery for Graham’s first two novels 40 years ago and found the costume-designers included many more working and lower class head scarves, mob caps, and simple bonnets and flat hats with ribbons, and specific headdresses for ritual occasions.

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For her wedding day (and possibly traveling) Keren (Sheila White) has decorated a simple bonnet with lace

Our female characters moved to forms of cloth hat to signal religious sects. When it came to creating beauty, glamour, suggesting upper class decor, much more attention was paid to wigs (big hair which blended fashions of the 1970s with those of the 1780s through 90s) than hats, but these covered a wider range, from pancake, to wide brimmed decorated, to tricorn, and simply (on your wig, threaded in), feathers, woven braids, and the rare jewel. There were also scarves which fit into political headgear which may be a blend of Jacobin, Cornish and mining community.

What they all show is that in comparison to 40 years on, the earlier series was interested in historical accuracy, yet made no attempt to film and showcase hats separately; each and every still shows a woman character in the midst of doing something that is part of the story or a product of their inner life. They signal class, politics, the personality of the character, and mood of the story line.

This is for those interested in how the 18th century has been depicted and love the old familiar pictures I hope seen anew.

The first hat we see is a respectable traveling wide-brim with ribbon under the chin:

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This actress would play Jane Eyre (1983, with Timothy Dalton)

This opening Part 1 (1783), coresponding to the revenant’s return of Ross Poldark, runs the gamut of Verity with her characteristic mob cap:

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not much different from the servant’s, Mrs Tabb:

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to the high elegance of Elizabeth’s bridal veil:

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and Jinny’s imitation (bridal veil on limited budget):

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And this range is echoed in Part 2, where we move from another kind of head cover, the scarf tied behind the head at the nape of the neck, with cloth fanny out behind, signalling Jinny’s place in the political spectrum:

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We see it women of Jinny’s class, but not character, at a fair, in the streets:

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And Keren boasts a headscarf too:

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Here is another house mob cap, more elaborate as worn by Verity as she asks Ross to help her see Blamey regularly:

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Demelza graduates to her first hat showing she is growing up in Part 3 (1785 or to)

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echoed by Prudie’s similar number as she watches Demelza scrub a table:

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For outdoors, against the wind, and to protect her ears, Demelza in a sturdy kerchief bringing out lunch to Ross and Jud in the fields.

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Jud snatches an apple

Our costume designers turned the pages of their script until they reached the death of Charles Poldark requiring a funeral required elaborate headdresses from the women, of which I choose just two from our central heroines:

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Verity

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Elizabeth

The latter has grown intensely restless, dissatisfied, and soon after tells Ross so in an elegant wide-brim with ribbon under her chin, matching her suit-like outfit:

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Meanwhile Demelza had fled home to her methodist step-mother:

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who must’ve made it clear that similar attire for the head was expected of her stepdaughter:

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Although the stepmother knows by this time that Demelza is with child (by Ross), Elizabeth is still dreaming of running off, and wears a fetching triangle for outdoor love-making (matching the same outfit, thrift, thrift):

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A new book, Demelza, and our heroine has had her baby and there is a christening. We get some elegant headgear now:

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See what you missed, Ross

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A sweeter lace wide-brim for Verity reminds me of 1950s Easter hats

Unfortunately some of the women use their hats to exclude others, to crowd out and stigmatize those without these or who have not their confidence:

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Following the debacle of this christening, the married lady takes heart and plots to help her kind cousin-in-law meet Blamey once again. They go off to shop: Verity in a small pancake, and Demelza in a delicious concoction of pancake, frills and kerchief:

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Some time later our Cinderella goes to a ball, alas hatless, ribbonless, but not Lady Brodrugan:

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who sports feathers and discreet jewels in a high class wig

Margaret with less money, makes do with a large white feather

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and a clutch of pearls around the neck

Verity has gone all out (expecting Blamey):

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There is too much bankruptcy and trouble to foster much millinery in the last parts of Demelza, so we have to make do with troubled women in the street:

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Lady Brodrugan at Christmas in emerald green tricorn (surely meant ironically):

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concluding with Demelza in one of her blends of Jacobin, working class and Cornish scarf:

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plain cloth version — there is this lace one too:

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After all, it’s called costume drama first and foremost, no?

Ellen

P.S. Next up wigs, and what the men wore on their heads.

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Cover

Dear friends and readers,

I want again to report on, share part of a review of a book, this time because I suspect its title, Sentimental Memorials, as well as the marmoreal cover illustration, will put potential readers off. Norma Clarke’s own books are uniformly insightful and informative, and her description of Sodeman’s book is to be trusted (appeared in TLS, July 31, 2015, but not on-line). Clarke suggests that Sodeman shows a direct line from 18th century novels by women to those of women writers of the later 20th and early 21st century. Sodeman discovers

in the novels of Sophia Lee, Ann Radcliffe, Charlotte Smith and Mary Robinson a concern with the status of their own writings at a time when literature was becoming professionalized and when the novel, increasingly popular, became downgraded as genre. Women established the new genre of historical fiction, and left to friends the task of including them in their histories, while in fact the participation of women in popular genres was then and still is seen as an embarrassment.

But the most popular works offered debased forms of excessive emotionalism or action-adventure. By contrast, says Clarke,

Sodeman imagines the generation of women writing and publishing in the 1780s and 90s as sharing “a vibrant memory of elite women’s literary accomplishments … while becoming aware that their own efforts were culturally devalued, and that history-writing and and canon-formation were leaving women out. Frances Brooke in 1785 complained that “the road of literary fame” was closed to most women. They were not included in the multi-volume collections; they were not being memorialized. Sentimental Memorials rescues each of its subjects not from obscurity, for they are now much studied, but from negative characterization.

More profoundly, she argues that the establishment of the literary canon itself depended on a sentimental reading of the past shaped by illusions of historical recovery. Historians like Hume and Robertson used the devices of sentimental fiction to fill gaps, inviting readers to imagine what Mary Queen of Scots felt, for example, as she left France. Antiquarians found or forged manuscripts and built invented pasts on these “authentic” fragments. The “found” manuscript was already part of gothic convention when Ann Radcliffe made powerful use of it in The Romance of the Forest (1791). Jane Austen gets a little slap for missing the point in Northanger Abbey: Radcliffe was critiquing a device, not simple-mindedly deploying it to create terror.

Sodeman asks us to consider her subjects as women who possessed a heightened awareness of the historicity of forms, and of the likely obsolescence of their own fictions. It is an ingenious way of reclaiming elements — such as Radcliffe’s use of interpolated lyrics, Smith’s repeated appeals to her readers to sympathize with her as a victim of the legal system — that have dissatisfied stem critics. It leads to a subtle blend of textual criticism with literary history and single-author study.

Sentimental Memorials … takes the ephemerality of sentimental fiction and discovers in it a concern for enduring reputation. It examines the uses of autobiographical detail in imaginative prose that depicts national and international concerns while at the same time conveying personal truths that have public meanings … Sodeman is steeped in the critical literature about realist fiction and its relation to facts or history

There are some flaws:

[Sodeman] has little to say about the longer history of women’s writers; and although she quotes Clifford Siskin’s formulation, the “Great Forgetting,” she manages when discussing Mary Robinson as “the English Sappho” to make no mention of Aphra Behn, the most famous “Sappho” in the English tradition… Similarly, Sodeman explains Ann Radcliffe’s interpolated lyrics as a strategy to accentuate artifice and intensify feeling without indicating that many readers would already have associated the device with the sentimental figure of an oppressed woman: Radcliffe was following a model set in the mid-century by Laetitia Pilkington in her Memoirs. In the “Great Forgetting”, it was the so-called scandalous women who were most forgotten. Their works tended not to be realist fictions but memoirs, stories of lived lives that were compelling because they were real.

Clarke concludes:

Writers such as Smith and Robinson owed as much to this tradition as they did to realist fiction. Questions about fictionality, truth, the status of individual experience and the forms in which it was received and believed were crucial to memoir. So, too, for readers, was the mingling of wonder and scepticism. The vibrant memory” of women writers in the ’80s and 90s operated on literary materials that have yet to receive the attention that has been paid to realist fiction and forms which, as seller lists demonstrate …

are far from obsolete.

Ellen

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