The Romance of Certain Old Clothes by Henry James (1886)
Tuesday’s Tale of Terror May 27, 2014
Romance of Certain Old Clothes is about female sexual rivalry. Two sisters are deliciously jealous of one another. We are in Massachusetts in the country home of the Wingrave family [in some versions the Willoughby family]. Perdita and Rosalind [in some versions Rosalind is renamed Viola] are both attractive young women with an older brother.
Rosalind “is tall and white, with calm gray eyes and auburn tresses; a very faint likeness to the Rosalind of Shakespeare’s comedy.” And a tad plump, she is, with a cold eye on everything around her. Perdita is the sweetest and has “the cheek of a gipsy and the eye of an eager child, as well as the smallest waist and lightest foot.”
Mr. Arthur Lloyd arrives, a handsome gentleman, rich in sterling pounds,good health, well educated, and a traveler.
Poor Arthur, for he is compelled to choose between the two sisters for his bride. At one point you might wonder if the man is falling in love with both beauties. Hmmm, this smacks of an odd threesome, but we are in Victorian times in New England so that Puritan repression holds Mr. Lloyd in place.
A drama takes center stage between Rosalind and Perdita for this prize marriage, and of course for property—the theme of possessions run high as does the desire to be Mr. Lloyd’s object of beauty in fine dresses and jewels. Who does Mr. Lloyd carry off as his wife to his new estate? I’ll never tell.
Don’t miss the irony, the intrigue, the clever ambiguity that is Henry James’ signature; he gives us a well-crafted psychological ghost story, and so very Gothic. In the end, one of the sisters has a most sinister win.
Read The Romance of Certain Old Clothes at HenryJames.org
Listen to the audio recording (scroll to Number 9) at Librivox.org
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First image above is by Francios Boucher 1770s.
Bottom image is by Jakab Marastoni Woman Seated before a Mirror 1840s.