Wednesday, 27 May 2015

a restaurant for women only

It was an innovation, a restaurant for women only. Although dining for upper- and middle-class women was already available at the various women's clubs, and although some conventional restaurants provided ladies' dining rooms discreetly located in upper storeys or side-rooms, Dorothy's was a bold modern proposition. Its door was right on the street, and it was open to all classes of women, from shop assistants to duchesses. Offering cheap wholesome fare for all, Dorothy's liberated the former from having to eat a bun in a shop and offered the latter a new kind of experience. You just bought an eightpenny dining ticket on entrance, took a seat at one of the tables and waited for your 'plate of meat, two vegetables and bread' to arrive. For an extra couple of pence you could also get pudding, and for a further penny tea, coffee or chocolate. Dorothy's was a perfect example of how, in late Victorian London, Aestheticism, liberalism and feminist sympathies could collide. The first branch of the restaurant to open, in Mortimer Street, had cream-coloured walls with 'aesthetic crimson dados' and had been made 'gay with Japanese fans and umbrellas'. The Oxford Street branch, which opened just months later, was a far more dramatic proposition, its windows hung with rich Indian curtains, its ante-room painted a deep red that offset luxurious couches, small tables and carefully selected ornaments, and its larger luncheon room featuring rows of simple tables set with glazed white cotton tablecloths surmounted by vases of fresh flowers.
Constance: The Tragic and Scandalous Life of Mrs Oscar Wilde
Franny Moyle (2011)

A really very good biography of Constance Wilde, who led an interesting as well as tragic life. On The Dorothy Restaurant, see here.

Saturday, 9 May 2015

Emotion is extremely exhausting, and Emma makes very nice fish-cakes

She went on telling Miss Silver everything she knew. It gave her the most extraordinary sense of relief. When she had finished she felt weak, and empty, and quiet.
Miss Silver coughed in a very kind manner and said briskly, 'And now, my dear, we will have some breakfast. Emma will have it ready for us. Fish-cakes – and do you prefer tea or coffee?'
'Oh, Miss Silver, I couldn't!'
Miss Silver was putting the knitting away in a flowered chintz bag. She said with great firmness, 'Indeed you can, my dear. And you will feel a great deal better when you have had something to eat. Emotion is extremely exhausting, and Emma makes very nice fish-cakes. And perhaps you would like to wash your face.'
Ivory Dagger (1953)
Patricia Wentworth

Note: I love Miss Silver - the knitting, the cough*, the spinster saved from poverty by her own wits. This is quite a weak entry in the Miss Silver canon, mostly because the heroine-victim (not the young lady above) is all pale and spineless and totally without the spirit to rescue herself. 

* From the preface to Catherine Wheel: "To those readers who have so kindly concerned themselves about Miss Silver’s health. Her occasional slight cough is merely a means of self-expression. It does not indicate any bronchial affection. She enjoys excellent health. P.W."