Friday, November 21, 2008

Powerful haberdashery

I've just started reading Rose Tremain's Music and Silence. I'm on a bit of a Rose Tremain binge, having recently finished reading The Road Home for my book group. It was un-put-downable, so I'm hoping to have another reading high.

Music and Silence begins in Copenhagen in 1629 in the court of King Christian IV of Denmark. Very early in the story the narrator tells the tale of the King's birth to Queen Sofie who loved to 'sit in the sunshine and indulge her secret passion for knitting'. The tale continues:

'This activity had been proscribed throughout the land as tending to induce in women an idle trance of mind, in which their proper thoughts would fly away and be replaced by fancy. Men called this state "wool gathering". That the wool itself could be fashioned into useful articles of haberdashery such as stockings or night bonnets made them no less superstitiously afraid of the knitting craze. They believed that any knitted night bonnet might contain among its million stitches the longings of their wives that they could never satisfy and which in consequence would give them nightmares of the darkest kind. The knitted stocking they feared yet more completely as the probable instrument of their own enfeeblement. They imagined their feet becoming swollen and all the muscles of their legs beginning to grow weak'.

I wonder how Rose Tremain generated this digression within her larger tale. Is it a traditional superstition she's unearthed and incorporated as a detail in her novel? or has she invented it? Either way, it fits so smoothly within the fearful beliefs that traditionally developed around women's work and preoccupations that it seems a plausible (though entertaining) embellishment.

1 comment:

Emily said...

Interesting idea! I must try a Tremain.

I thought woolgathering related in some way to the gathering of caught wool from sheep in the countryside. But I KNOW nothing, just surmise.