Red Dress, Dead Dress

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(Above image by Tony Lovell for my collaborative book BUSY BLOOD)


MAKING ARRANGEMENTS by Elizabeth Bowen

“It was like being spoken to when he was settling down to a stiff book in the evening;…”

Like Hewson Blair I am inundated by the sheer kinky luxuriance of this prose with its ‘Ravissante’ Aickman relish in a river of ankle-clogging, time-resisting dressery, whatever the stiff demands of reading about such stuff and its stiff arrangements of a lost marriage, as Hewson receives a letter from his wife Margery (following my previous reviewed story “gone away” with another man to a riverside hotel), a letter demanding that Hewson now fulfil his skills as arch male husbandish arranger (“Hewson never conceived or imagined, but he intended; and his home had been all that he had intended”) in arranging to send on to her her list of her clothes etc. prior to divorce. He coldly inspects the emotions of such demands, and the chameleon colours she has left behind for him and his servant to order. Especially the red dress as arch catalyst of their arch marriage, that he accidentally tears, then deliberately does so! The implications  are both complex and easy to comprehend. Arrangements of fiction-making as strict as they are now brain-storming. Tactile and ravishing objects, included in the gestalt…’pink quarter faces becoming three quarters faces’. Her pink slippers, another residual catalyst. “…cognate parts of a whole”…

“Yes, Margery was not unperceptive; he really did like making arrangements. The sense of efficiency intoxicated him, like dancing. He liked going for a thing methodically and getting it done; jotting down lists on pieces of paper and clipping the papers together and putting them away in the one inevitable drawer.”

He could not even remember if the man she was now with was the man with the cello or the man with the golf handicap!
This is not only imbued with the Ravissante side of Aickman, but also with many of the gender/ marital sides of his stories, too.

“He laid the dress down reverently on the bed, like a corpse, and folded its gauzy sleeves across its bosom.”

“It came out into the light of the room hanging jagged and lamentable, the long hem trailing.”

Red dress!  Dead dress!  

“All her delightfulness to her friends had been in this expansion of herself into forms and colours.”

“It seemed to him, as he softly, inexorably approached them, that the swirls, rivers, and luxuriance of silk and silver, fur and lace and velvet, shuddered as he came. His shadow drained the colour from them as he bent over the bed.”

That shadowy third, indeed.

“Approaching the bed, his steps were once more impeded; sometimes he was walking ankle-deep.”

Thus, also that endemic Gluey Zenoism I found recently steeped in my recent reviews of the whole of Aickman.

Another seminal story to add to the brainstorming  list of my life’s strict literary arrangements.

*

Personal note…

This story ends with an apparent throwaway line by Hewson…

“The carpet needs sweeping; she should pay particular attention to the carpet.”

My one and only novel, ’Nemonymous Night’, published when I was 63 in 2011 started with just such a concern, as if it was once ignited by the end of this very story?!

As it says amazingly somewhere in ‘Making Arrangements’….

“I couldn’t help laughing; it just shows how true novels really are.”

***

My endless reviews of Bowen stories started here: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2021/10/05/the-collected-stories-of-elizabeth-bowen/

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