Wednesday, May 6, 2015

About the yellow dress


For those of you reading the new Kindle or paperback copies of A Constant Love who've been with me since the beginning, you may have been puzzled by this particular change:

"Elizabeth had been very pleased with how all of the dresses in her wedding trousseau had turned out, but among them she had a few favourites, and she was pleased to see when she went upstairs to change that Sarah had set one of them out. It was a lovely pale yellow muslin that flattered her complexion, and Jane – whose patience made her easily the best embroiderer of all the Bennet ladies – had done the trim. Sarah could not have known this, but Elizabeth was pleased her sister would be able to see the results of her handiwork."

In the original version of the story, Elizabeth was wearing a blue silk dress. I happened to think blue suited the Elizabeth in my head (who wavers between looking mostly like Jennifer Ehle and sort of like Jennifer Ehle), and was at the time under the mistaken impression that because silk is more of a luxury fabric today, it would have been so at that time, while muslin, being made of cotton, was popular, but more for day dresses. Further research showed that to not actually be the case -- Indian muslin was the hot new thing of fashion, and a fine, high-quality muslin would have been highly appropriate for a dinner dress and perhaps even worn by some women for balls. Other grades of cotton fabric, such as calico, would have been worn by lower classes of women.

So that explains the fabric change. But what about the color of the dress? Well, I read of one of Jane Austen's letters, written from London to Cassandra, in which she writes:

"I went the day before (Friday) to Layton's, as I proposed, and got my mother's gown -- seven yards at 6s. 6d. I then walked into No. 10, which is all dirt and confusion, but in a very promising way, and after being present at the opening of a new account, to my great amusement, Henry and I went to the exhibition in Spring Gardens. It is not thought a good collection, but I was very well pleased, particularly (pray tell Fanny) with a small portrait of Mrs. Bingley, excessively like her.

"I went in hopes of seeing one of her sister, but there was no Mrs. Darcy. Perhaps, however, I may find her in the great exhibition, which we shall go to if we have time. I have no chance of her in the collection of Sir Joshua Reynolds's paintings, which is now showing in Pall Mall, and which we are also to visit.

"Mrs. Bingley's is exactly herself -- size, shaped face, features, and sweetness; there never was a greater likeness. She is dressed in a white gown, with green ornaments, which convinces me of what I had always supposed, that green was a favourite colour with her. I dare say Mrs. D. will be in yellow."


And who am I to argue with that? After all, Mrs. Darcy is not my character, as much as I enjoy borrowing her. My stories have always been about honoring Austen's work and the real history of the time to the best of my abilities. So I decided she needed to wear yellow prominently in the story, and I thought this first time acting as hostess for a large dinner, her first time appearing in such a role as Mrs. Darcy, was the best time for Elizabeth to wear yellow.

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