Saturday, 3 May 2008

Coincidences; ghost dresses; and comfort blankets...


I've just been catching up on this blog, and others, and I was struck by the strange coincidence of dovegreyreader writing about my book, "My Mother's Wedding Dress", on my sister's birthday. There's no mention in the book that Ruth was born on Mayday, so it seems all the more serendipitous that dovegreyreader should choose May 1st, of all days, to write. Ruth loved clothes -- they were a reflection of her intensely joyous response to life -- and that's one of the reasons that the Lavender Trust has had such longstanding relationships with fashion companies (everyone from Chanel to Miss Selfridge has supported our fundraising for women with breast cancer).
Anyway, in celebration of serendipity, here's a little bit from "My Mother's Wedding Dress", from a chapter called "Ghost Dresses". (As it happens, this chapter also includes passages on Daphne du Maurier's "Rebecca", reflecting on the profoundly disturbing scenes where the second Mrs de Winter is haunted by her predecessor's clothes; but no room for that here). In case it seems confusing taken out of context, in the following extract, I'm writing about Ghost the fashion label, rather than du Maurier's more spectral creations:
"One might question why it is that women want to look, if not like ghosts, exactly, then somehow wraithlike (it's a question of fragility, I suppose, of choosing to give an impression of otherworldliness; half Titania, half Ophelia; something like that, perhaps). Except it didn't seem that way when my sister started buying lots of Ghost clothes after she was diagnosed with breast cancer; and it didn't feel that way when I bought some for her, as well, on shopping expeditions that took place after we'd met for tea and cakes in Sagne's Patisserie, a cafe just a few yards away from the block of flats where we'd lived, all those years previously, on Marylebone High Street... Of course, if you were being objective -- which I am not -- you might also ask why a woman with terminal cancer should want to wear the Ghost label; but it didn't seem possible that she would die, even though she was spending money like there was no tomorrow...

"When Ruth died, in the night, towards the end of an Indian summer, she was not wearing any of her Ghost clothes. Her dress was dark charcoal-grey jersey wool; the colour of ashes, I could say, except she was fond of that dress, it was not quite as sombre as it sounds. It was long, though not down to her ankles; and when she had come back to the hospice on a Sunday afternoon -- having made her escape for the weekend, as she often tried to do -- she had on black opaque tights beneath her dress, covering her frail wasting legs. Her husband, Matt, had taken their children home (they were tired, only two years old) and I stayed with her, though she was leaving, it seemed to me; too sick to want me to read to her, as I'd done in the weeks before, sitting beside her hospital bed; too far away to be comforted by her favourite story of brave-hearted Pippi Longstocking. First, she'd clawed at her tights, in pain, crying out loud, and I'd helped the nurses take them off; but then they gave her morphine, and she was peaceful, in her long dress, drifting, dreaming. My mother was there, too, as day turned to night, and she placed a soft filigree cashmere scarf at my sister's cheek; pale cobwebby grey, like the worn baby blanket Ruth had loved as a little girl; her comfort blanket, the one she'd never wanted to throw away."

2 comments:

HelenMH said...

What a moving post. I must read 'My Mother's Wedding Dress'. I just wanted to let you know I've written a review of 'Daphne' which is currently up on the bookersatz site. (I don't know how to put a link in comments, but there's a link on my blog.) I loved it, by the way and didn't want it to end. It's inspired me to want to go back and reread Rebecca, and Daphne's other books.

Justine Picardie said...

Helen -- thanks for this. I'm so glad you liked Daphne, and I'm sure you'll enjoy rediscovering du Maurier's novels. They have a habit of sucking one right into her world again...