Friday, September 3, 2010

The Importance of the Cashmere Shawl

Friday, September 3, 2010

Loretta reports:

From France, by Lady Morgan (Sydney), and Sir Thomas Charles Morgan.  3rd edition.  1817

The elegant produce of the Indian loom is an indispensable object to every French woman, and from the estimation it is held in, one would suppose there was " magic in the web of it." I shall never forget the mingled emotions of pity and amazement I excited, in one of my French friends, by assuring her, I never had been mistress of a cachemir.

“Ah! seigneur Dieu, mes c'est inconcevable, ma belle," [Ah! but that is inconceivable,] and she added that I ought to buy one with the produce of my next work. I replied: "I had rather buy a little estate with it."

"Eh bien, ma chére," ["Well, but my dear,"] she answered quickly, " un cachemir, c’est une terre, n'est-ce pas?" [" a cachemir is the same as an estate, is it not?"]

In fact, these valuable and expensive shawls generally do become heir-looms, in a French family.

"Voila un trait de toilette pour vous, mon enfant," [" There is an anecdote of the toilette for you, my dear,"] said Mad. de Genlis to me one morning, as I entered her pretty apartment, at her Carmelite convent, to which she has retired. " Here is a trait will amuse you;" and she related to me the following anecdote.

A little before I had paid my visit, a young gentlemen had left this celebrated lady, suddenly cured of a passion for a young married woman, against which Mad. de Genlis had long and vainly preached. She had argued the matter with him morally, prudentially, sentimentally; she had even, like Mad. de Sevigne" (in listening to her son's confessions, respecting Ninon,) tried to get in "un petit mot de Dieu:" [a little word of religion;"] but it was all in vain, until a shawl " peau de lapin" [of rabbit-skin] effected what the charming eloquence of Mad. de Genlis failed to produce.

He had the night before attended his "chére belle" to a ball; she sent him to her carriage for her shawl.  He flew to be the bearer of the superbe cachemir, breathing its kindred roses; but (death to every finer feeling of fashion, taste, and sentiment) the laquais drew from the pocket of the carriage—a shawl peau de lapin!!!"  "Plus de prêchements donc, ma chére comtesse," ["no more 'sermons, my dear countess,] added the convalescent lover, "c'est une affaire finie!" [the affair is over!] Never can love and rabbit skins be associated in my imagination; and believe me, my dear madam, qu'il n'y a pas d'amour à tenir contre un schall, peau de lapin!" ["no love can stand against a rabbit skin shawl!"]


Mme.Tresbeau said...

Was the "rabbit skin" shawl really made from the skin of a rabbit? So more like a modern mink stole? Or was it just the hair, as angora rabbit hair is often substituted for cashmere in sweaters?

LorettaChase said...

Mme. Tresbeau, I wondered about this, too. But fur didn't make sense in the context, so I concluded it was rabbit hair that so disgusted the gentleman.

Anonymous said...

The picture of the lady at the bottom is beautiful. Who is she?

LorettaChase said...

The artist is Elisabeth Vigée-lebrun (1755-1842), whose work I love. The subject is La Comtesse Catherine Vassilievna Skavronskaia, about whom I know nothing. It's a little earlier than Lady Morgan's book, but I was trying to find less well-known beautiful examples of cashmere shawls in art.

Cathryn Cade said...

I must confess to being a lover of shawls, myself, although mine are the sort that can be worn as a long scarf or wrapped around the shoulders when chilly. Love the pattern and texture over a turtleneck. No rabbit skins!

thanks for the fun post,
Cathryn Cade

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