Friday, May 7, 2010

adventures in sinaesthesia: wodehouse and cuir de russie

Elizabeth KettleA lot of people take Chanel’s masterpiece (well, one of them) Cuir de Russie very seriously, rightly admiring its near-perfect combo of cigar, barnyard, and leather, overlaid with a sparkling aldehyde and floral mist. I love cuir de russie, but something about it also tickles my funnybone. I find it incredibly ‘historical’-feeling—which is a silly way of saying it fits—in my mind—into a very specific time and place. It really pushes my imagination towards the post-war years of the English aristocracy, and in particular, towards a certain type of girl, parodied hilariously by the ever pitch-perfect P.G. Wodehouse. This kind of girl—I am thinking of a character named Honoria Glossop in particular--possessed of a Teutonic hardiness, is never far from her horse or the golf and tennis courts, loves outdoor activities, is as strong as an ox, and always manages to get herself engaged to some insipid young upper-class gent.



As Bertie, one of the insipid upper class gents lampooned in Wodehouse’s novels puts it, “Honoria Glossop…was one of those large, strenuous, dynamic girls with the physique of a middleweight catch-as-catch-can wrestler and a laugh resembling the sound made by the Scotch Express going under a bridge. The effect she had on me was to make me slide into a cellar and lie low there till they blew the All Clear" (From Jeeves and the Greasy Bird). 
But Honoria is not unappealing, in her horsey way. Her tweeds and riding boots are lovely and well-coordinated, and she really knows her way around all the moribund pleasures of the great country estate. As much as I may laugh at her amazonian tendencies, I would love to be Honoria. She knows what she wants and where she fits into the world…more than I could ever say for myself, and she knows how to get it.




I see Cuir de Russie as similarly sure of itself and its place in the world. It stands for a time now gone, when wearing trousers was still a gender-bending statement, and playing with gender was a much more provocative enterprise than it is now.   




the first episode of  the fabulous tv series Jeeves and Wooster starring Hugh Laurie and Stephen Fry here
the image of the young Wodehouse from http://blogs.dixcdn.com/shine_a_light/2009/07/

Jeeves & Wooster - The Complete Series  The Novels of P. G. Wodehouse (33 novels +)  Stiff Upper Lip, Jeeves

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