I’m going to divert from my usual fare of L. M. Montgomery today to post about the wedding of Katy Carr of What Katy Did. What Katy Did is about a girl who has all the vices of Victorian womanhood (though she is in fact American) — wilfulness being the main one — until she falls off a swing and hurts her back. Pain and immobility teach her to be the heart of her home and to aspire to be “ladylike”. She then goes to a boarding school where she has harmless frolics with her schoolfellows, including a society against flirtation, and eventually gets engaged to an astoundingly dull naval lieutenant named Ned.
Coolidge is less interesting than other writers of late 19th century chick lit — Katy’s main feature is how nice she is, which, boring! — but she does go into a huge amount of detail when it comes to Katy’s wedding.
“… Don’t be shocked, Clovy; but, do you know, I don’t want to be married in church at all, or to have any bridesmaids, or anything arranged for beforehand particularly. I should like things to be simple, and to just happen.”
“But, Katy, you can’t do it like that. It will all get into a snarl if there is no planning beforehand or rehearsals; it would be confused and horrid.”
“I don’t see why it would be confused if there were nothing to confuse. Please not be vexed; but I always have hated the ordinary kind of wedding, with its fuss and worry and so much of everything, and just like all the other weddings, and the bride looking tired to death, and nobody enjoying it a bit. I’d like mine to be different, and more—more—real. I don’t want any show or processing about, but just to have things nice and pretty, and all the people I love and who love me to come to it, and nothing cut and dried, and nobody tired, and to make it a sort of dear, loving occasion, with leisure to realize how dear it is and what it all means. Don’t you think it would really be nicer in that way?”
“Well, yes, as you put it, and ‘viewed from the higher standard,’ as Miss Inches would say, perhaps it would. Still, bridesmaids and all that are very pretty to look at; and folks will be surprised if you don’t have them.”
“Never mind folks,” remarked the irreverent Katy. “I don’t care a button for that argument. Yes; bridesmaids and going up the aisle in a long procession and all the rest are pretty to look at,—or were before they got to be so hackneyed. I can imagine the first bridal procession up the aisle of some early cathedral as having been perfectly beautiful. But nowadays, when the butcher and baker and candlestick-maker and everybody else do it just alike, the custom seems to me to have lost its charm. I never did enjoy having things exactly as every one else has them,—all going in the same direction like a flock of sheep. I would like my little wedding to be something especially my own. There was a poetical meaning in those old customs; but now that the custom has swallowed up so much of the meaning, it would please me better to retain the meaning and drop the custom.”
I like “now that custom has swallowed up so much of the meaning” — talk about contemporary relevance!
Katy’s unconventional practices include sending a small box of homemade wedding cake to everybody in town — “all the poor people, I mean, and the old people and the children at the Home and those forlorn creatures at the poor-house and all papa’s patients” — and getting married in the parlour, but what I’m most interested in, of course, is her wedding dress.
Clover helped Katy to put on the wedding-gown of soft crape and creamy white silk. It was trimmed with old lace and knots of ribbon, and Katy wore with it two or three white roses which Ned had brought her, and a pearl pendant which was his gift.
Katy’s wedding outfit is made up of various bits and pieces connected with her family — the crape is from an embroidered shawl which previously belonged to her late mother, which they piece together with “white surah or something” to make a dress. She incorporates a “white watered sash” which is a gift from an aunt and her veil is a square of “beautiful old blonde” from a family friend.
The delicious thing about the description is all this fabric jargon — I assume the words would have been more familiar to readers who would have been used to making their own clothes, but I had to look them up. Surah, according to the Young Englishwoman (1873), is “a kind of twilled Indian silk tissue, extremely soft and brilliant”. Twilled means “having diagonal lines or ridges on the surface” and the watered sash would have had a “wavy lustrous damask-like pattern or finish”. And blonde is a “silk lace of two threads, twisted and formed in hexagonal meshes; orig. of the colour of raw silk” — Katy’s veil, being aged, is described as being a “becoming” yellow-white shade.
(IIRC Jane Eyre also ends up wearing a blonde veil for her first aborted wedding with Mr Rochester, after the expensive lace veil Mr Rochester bought her is ripped in half by his skeleton in the closet.)