Book weddings: Katy Carr

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.)

Book weddings: Miss Cornelia

Montgomery’s older brides tend to wear navy blue, perhaps because the white wedding dress is so strongly associated by Montgomery with youthful beauty and virginity. In this excerpt we see the recurring preoccupation in her books with the appropriateness of things – Montgomery has a keen sense both of beauty and of the ridiculous, and the one must not be allowed to desecrate the other.

“In about a month’s time. My wedding dress is to be navy blue silk. And I want to ask you, Anne, dearie, if you think it would be all right to wear a veil with a navy blue dress. I’ve always thought I’d like to wear a veil if I ever got married. Marshall says to have it if I want to. Isn’t that like a man?”

“Why shouldn’t you wear it if you want to?” asked Anne.

“Well, one doesn’t want to be different from other people,” said Miss Cornelia, who was not noticeably like anyone else on the face of the earth. “As I say, I do fancy a veil. But maybe it shouldn’t be worn with any dress but a white one. Please tell me, Anne, dearie, what you really think. I’ll go by your advice.”

“I don’t think veils are usually worn with any but white dresses,” admitted Anne, “but that is merely a convention; and I am like Mr. Elliott, Miss Cornelia. I don’t see any good reason why you shouldn’t have a veil if you want one.”

But Miss Cornelia, who made her calls in calico wrappers, shook her head. “If it isn’t the proper thing I won’t wear it,” she said, with a sigh of regret for a lost dream.

Veils are practically definitive of the bridal state, but Miss Cornelia – Mrs. Marshall Elliott as will be – is no less married for the absence of a veil or a white dress. I s’pose the excerpt also points up the bride’s yearning for conventionality – people are anxious to do the correct thing when it comes to weddings, which is why Miss Manners gets so many questions about ’em.

From a purely aesthetic perspective I like a white veil with a non-white dress, though it depends on the shades, I guess. Modern Vintage Bride’s combination of white veil and grey Temperley dress was terrifically chic!

Book weddings: Anne Shirley

The third wedding in the Anne series is arguably the most important. It is Anne’s.

… it was a happy and beautiful bride who came down the old, homespun-carpeted stairs that September noon—the first bride of Green Gables, slender and shining-eyed, in the mist of her maiden veil, with her arms full of roses.

The mist and maidenliness of a bridal veil recurs.

“But you are going to wear a veil, aren’t you?” asked Diana, anxiously.

“Yes, indeedy. I shouldn’t feel like a bride without one.”

The image of Anne coming down the stairs is a beautiful one, but relatively light on what wedding blogs like to call “details”. Diana describes Anne’s wedding dress in thrilling but unspecific terms as “a dream”, but we don’t get any more about it than that. Of course what is important about a wedding doesn’t lie in the cut of a bodice or the ruffles on a skirt … but all the same, I want to know what sort of sleeves Anne of Green Gables’ wedding dress had!

Gilbert, waiting for her in the hall below, looked up at her with adoring eyes. She was his at last, this evasive, long-sought Anne, won after years of patient waiting. It was to him she was coming in the sweet surrender of the bride. Was he worthy of her? Could he make her as happy as he hoped? If he failed her—if he could not measure up to her standard of manhood—then, as she held out her hand, their eyes met and all doubt was swept away in a glad certainty. They belonged to each other; and, no matter what life might hold for them, it could never alter that. Their happiness was in each other’s keeping and both were unafraid.

They were married in the sunshine of the old orchard, circled by the loving and kindly faces of long-familiar friends. Mr. Allan married them, and the Reverend Jo made what Mrs. Rachel Lynde afterwards pronounced to be the “most beautiful wedding prayer” she had ever heard. Birds do not often sing in September, but one sang sweetly from some hidden bough while Gilbert and Anne repeated their deathless vows. Anne heard it and thrilled to it; Gilbert heard it, and wondered only that all the birds in the world had not burst into jubilant song; Paul heard it and later wrote a lyric about it which was one of the most admired in his first volume of verse; Charlotta the Fourth heard it and was blissfully sure it meant good luck for her adored Miss Shirley. The bird sang until the ceremony was ended and then it wound up with one mad little, glad little trill. Never had the old gray-green house among its enfolding orchards known a blither, merrier afternoon. All the old jests and quips that must have done duty at weddings since Eden were served up, and seemed as new and brilliant and mirth-provoking as if they had never been uttered before.

I want to know what those old jests and quips are. It must have seemed obvious to Montgomery and her audience, but from a century later and an ocean away it’s hard to know if any of my guesses would be accurate.

Laughter and joy had their way; and when Anne and Gilbert left to catch the Carmody train, with Paul as driver, the twins were ready with rice and old shoes, in the throwing of which Charlotta the Fourth and Mr. Harrison bore a valiant part. Marilla stood at the gate and watched the carriage out of sight down the long lane with its banks of goldenrod. Anne turned at its end to wave her last good-bye. She was gone—Green Gables was her home no more; Marilla’s face looked very gray and old as she turned to the house which Anne had filled for fourteen years, and even in her absence, with light and life.

Montgomery gives her favourite characters the nicest weddings, and Anne’s has the same characteristics as Miss Lavendar’s: an outdoor ceremony; guest list made up only of long-familiar friends; officiants who are friends as well as ministers; a hearty lunch; and what for nowadays would be a very early goodbye. (And those old shoes make their appearance again!) Anne has no bridesmaids as all the girlfriends she would ask are either married or not able to attend, and she goes straight to her new matrimonial home to spend her honeymoon with Gilbert there.

Simple, straight from the heart, and relatively inexpensive. What more could you want? (Though I still want to know about the sleeves!)

Book weddings: Miss Lavendar

The next wedding in my Weddings by L. M. Montgomery series is the one between Miss Lavendar and Stephen Irving. Childhood friends and (the early 20th century Canada equivalent of) high school sweethearts, Miss Lavendar and Mr. Irving had a “foolish argument” in their youth, after which the dude stomped off in a huff and Miss Lavendar lived by herself in a cottage pretending the clouds were the fairies’ handkerchiefs for the next decade or two.

Anne meets Miss Lavendar in Anne of Avonlea and they hit it off because they’re both the kind of people who like anthropomorphising scenery.

Miss Lavendar and Stephen Irving have a tiny, charming backyard wedding: “in the garden under the honeysuckle trellis … where Mr. Irving proposed to her twenty-five years ago.

There was no formality about the marriage. Miss Lavendar came down the stairs to meet her bridegroom at the foot, and as he took her hand she lifted her big brown eyes to his with a look that made Charlotta the Fourth, who intercepted it, feel queerer than ever. They went out to the honeysuckle arbor, where Mr. Allan was awaiting them. The guests grouped themselves as they pleased. Anne and Diana stood by the old stone bench, with Charlotta the Fourth between them, desperately clutching their hands in her cold, tremulous little paws.

Mr. Allan opened his blue book and the ceremony proceeded. Just as Miss Lavendar and Stephen Irving were pronounced man and wife a very beautiful and symbolic thing happened. The sun suddenly burst through the gray and poured a flood of radiance on the happy bride. Instantly the garden was alive with dancing shadows and flickering lights.

“What a lovely omen,” thought Anne, as she ran to kiss the bride. Then the three girls left the rest of the guests laughing around the bridal pair while they flew into the house to see that all was in readiness for the feast.

“Thanks be to goodness, it’s over, Miss Shirley, ma’am,” breathed Charlotta the Fourth, “and they’re married safe and sound, no matter what happens now. The bags of rice are in the pantry, ma’am, and the old shoes are behind the door, and the cream for whipping is on the sullar steps.”

At half past two Mr. and Mrs. Irving left, and everybody went to Bright River to see them off on the afternoon train. As Miss Lavendar … I beg her pardon, Mrs. Irving … stepped from the door of her old home Gilbert and the girls threw the rice and Charlotta the Fourth hurled an old shoe with such excellent aim that she struck Mr. Allan squarely on the head. But it was reserved for Paul to give the prettiest send-off. He popped out of the porch ringing furiously a huge old brass dinner bell which had adorned the dining room mantel. Paul’s only motive was to make a joyful noise; but as the clangor died away, from point and curve and hill across the river came the chime of “fairy wedding bells,” ringing clearly, sweetly, faintly and more faint, as if Miss Lavendar’s beloved echoes were bidding her greeting and farewell. And so, amid this benediction of sweet sounds, Miss Lavendar drove away from the old life of dreams and make-believes to a fuller life of realities in the busy world beyond.

People seem to have done away with the ancient tradition of hurling old shoes at the newlyweds.

So far as fantasy weddings go, I think this is a very charming one. Not counting the minister, there are only five guests, all of whom know and love the couple. Gilbert is kind of a random addition – as far as I can recall, he wasn’t that close to Miss Lavendar – but he was probably included because everyone in Avonlea ships Anne and Gilbert. They have a home-cooked meal and in a couple of hours the new family is off to begin their new life together. The way this is set up is especially convenient because Mr. and Mrs. Irving don’t have to do any of the cleaning up, or even pay for it – Charlotta the Fourth, Anne and Diana are left to do it.

What’s interesting about this is the implication in the last line that Miss Lavendar’s single life was not, in some sense, a real life; she needed to get married for her real life to begin. Montgomery was probably not intending to suggest that Miss Lavendar was going to stop daydreaming once she got married, so the idea is probably more that Miss Lavendar’s life plan or career was aborted when she failed to marry at an early age, and that all is set right and things can get going again.

It’s an interesting question how much Miss Lavendar will enjoy the “realities” of the world outside her cottage. She did live in stasis before Anne arrived in her life, Anne serving as a kind of catalyst (as she does for many other characters throughout the series – the prime example is, of course, Marilla, the woman who adopted her). But to an extent it seems to have been a stasis Miss Lavendar wanted – see e.g. her closest friend and servant, who is the last in a series of sisters, all of whom worked for Miss Lavendar and were called Charlotta by her, regardless of their actual name.

Of course, the idea is that she deliberately kept out of society in part because her life’s hopes were invested in Stephen Irving, and maybe that stasis is a way for her to deal with losing him. So now that he’s back she can get going again. But you wonder whether she’ll miss being alone.

Book weddings: Diana Barry

If there was ever a writer who understood the importance and interest of weddings, it was L. M. Montgomery, author of the Anne of Green Gables books and innumerable short stories set in Canadian small towns and villages.

I’ve always thought Montgomery would make a great women’s magazine writer because she has such a deep interest in the minutiae of women’s lives – all the details considered traditionally feminine, which are commonly treated of in such magazines – home décor, fashion, cooking, jewellery.

She was also keen on weddings, so I’m going to do a series of posts about the weddings which occur in her books and short stories. First up, an important one in Anne Shirley’s life: Diana Barry’s wedding.

One evening Marilla, coming in from the orchard with a basket of apples, found Anne sitting along by the east window in the twilight, crying bitterly.

“Whatever’s the matter now, Anne?” she asked.

“It’s about Diana,” sobbed Anne luxuriously. “I love Diana so, Marilla. I cannot ever live without her. But I know very well when we grow up that Diana will get married and go away and leave me. And oh, what shall I do? I hate her husband—I just hate him furiously. I’ve been imagining it all out—the wedding and everything—Diana dressed in snowy garments, with a veil, and looking as beautiful and regal as a queen; and me the bridesmaid, with a lovely dress too, and puffed sleeves, but with a breaking heart hid beneath my smiling face. And then bidding Diana goodbye-e-e—” Here Anne broke down entirely and wept with increasing bitterness.

I’ve always loved this exchange – I don’t think I’d ever seen before an acknowledgment of the joy of indulging in sentiment. Say what you will of Montgomery, and I’d be the first to acknowledge she had a lot of weaknesses as writer – she understood teenage girls. This is funny and touching and very 13 years old.

Anne is somewhat more level-headed about a decade later, when Diana actually gets married, to the unremarkable Fred Wright:

“After all, the only real roses are the pink ones,” said Anne, as she tied white ribbon around Diana’s bouquet in the westward-looking gable at Orchard Slope. “They are the flowers of love and faith.”

Diana was standing nervously in the middle of the room, arrayed in her bridal white, her black curls frosted over with the film of her wedding veil. Anne had draped that veil, in accordance with the sentimental compact of years before.

“It’s all pretty much as I used to imagine it long ago, when I wept over your inevitable marriage and our consequent parting,” she laughed. “You are the bride of my dreams, Diana, with the ‘lovely misty veil’; and I am YOUR bridesmaid. But, alas! I haven’t the puffed sleeves—though these short lace ones are even prettier. Neither is my heart wholly breaking nor do I exactly hate Fred.”

We see the usual deep interest in the details of the wedding: the roses (pink, if you please) and their meaning; the bridal white – Montgomery’s brides always either wear white, whether it is silk or satin or a simple organdie, or navy blue, if they are older and sensible. And the paramount importance of the veil – how delicious is that description of Diana’s black hair being “frosted over with the film of her wedding veil“?

I also like the detail of Anne’s envisioned puffed sleeves being replaced by short lace ones – much more chic, one imagines, as well as prettier. Anne is wearing a “soft, white dress with lilies-of-the-valley in the shining masses of her hair“, showing that bridesmaids in white is no new idea.