Rosemary Hill entertains and informs in her lecture about women and clothes, Frock Consciousness. The phrase is Virginia Wolf’s who wrote:
‘My love of clothes interests me profoundly, only it is not love; and what it is I must discover.’
Hill reflects that this diary entry was written in the year that:
Woolf published Mrs Dalloway, which brought her to literary prominence; the previous year she had sat for her photograph in Vogue. For that she chose to wear a dress of her mother’s, which was too big for her and long out of fashion. To plant it in the most famous fashion magazine in Europe was to make a statement, however ambiguous. And the experience of the sitting prompted a further thought: ‘My present reflection is that people have any number of states of consciousness: & I should like to investigate the party consciousness, the frock consciousness etc. These states are very difficult … I’m always coming back to it … Still I cannot get at what I mean
I don’t suppose that I shall get at it either, but I will revolve the question again and apply the advantage of nearly a century of hindsight to the idea of frock consciousness, an idea that I think was not born but at least much heightened in that period between the world wars just as Woolf was trying to put her finger on it.
It’s fascinating. It answered questions a brother always puzzled about when he saw his sisters getting dressed (why on earth should girls’ buttons be on the opposite side?) and makes a case for the revolutionary importance of the pullover.
Worth reading in full here. The linked page contains a recording of the lecture, if you prefer to listen rather than read.
“she pictures Mom in a gym suit. The gym suit is shiny and blue, and Mom’s feet move swiftly; she’s the star of the team. She can do a kick split and spin like a top. She’s so stunning that Dad can’t take his eyes of her. No way he’d ever get enough of watching a girl like that. Dad takes a running start, he takes a running start and streaks through the gym, his big hands stretching out before him. He wants to get over to where Mom is and he does. He comes within reach of the girl in the shining outfit. She looks like a kingfisher, he thinks, and kingfishers are rare. They screech as they fly through the air like arrow shafts, and Mom screeches too when Dad’s red hands grasp her about the waist. Then she sinks down; he is gravity itself. “You’ve got strong arms,” she tells him.”From Dorte Nors wonderful novel, Mirror, Shoulder, Signal
There’s a good review of it (and more about Dorte Nors) here
It’s hard to claim much sadness for the death of a person you never met and haven’t thought about for many years, but reading about Robert Pirsig’s death yesterday (at the grand age of 88) did give me pause.
I read Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance in the mid seventies, not long after it came out. It thrilled me. I was completely caught up in Phaedrus’ inner journey, and although I still have no sense of the academic worth of the ideas Pirsig’s hero lives through – I’m no philosopher – they hit me like a bombshell.
I was 20 or so when I read it, trying to work out what to do with my life and what to make of the tail end of all that sixties idealism I’d grown up with.
ZAMM made sense to me. It seemed to express – in a more coherent and structured way than anything I had read before – the spirit of those years.
Pirsig’s emphasis on quality, his challenge to the value-free subject/ object duality that was driving the materialism of western culture seemed – seems – essential. I never forgot it – it simply became part of the way I looked at the world.
That’s why, when I read the news last night, not having thought about him for many, many years, I raised my hat to him – in respect and thanks – and wished him well on his next road trip, perhaps – who knows – with his son Chris again.