Insult of the Week: I am often sorry to notice how unrefined your ideas are

In Mary Cholmondley’s 1893 novel Diana Tempest (vol I, vol II, vol III), our eponymous heroine has the doubtful pleasure of encountering a recently married friend, Madeleine Verelst, at a gathering at the home of Lord and Lady Hemsworth.   As is typical for this book, which is characterised by incisive and bleakly funny observations of human nature and social behaviour, readers are very quickly made aware of Madeleine’s specific set of quirks.

The new Mrs. Verelst is delighted to see Diana again, although not perhaps for reasons of simple friendship:

It was her first visit to her cousin Lady Hemsworth since her marriage, and her eyes brightened with real pleasure when that lady mentioned that Di was in the house, whom she had not seen since her wedding day.  She was conscious that she had some of her best gowns with her.

Although Madeleine has now been married for several months, she is still very much enjoying her role and new-found importance as a bride, and has much helpful advice to offer her unmarried friend.

“Remarks on personal appearance are so vulgar, I think.  ‘The lovely bride’, one paper called me.  I dare say other girls don’t mind that sort of thing being said, but it is just the kind of thing I dislike.” (Image source)

The aforementioned gowns are a principal topic of conversation when the two women first get reacquainted, along with the delightfulness of Madeleine’s wedding, the tastefulness of her trousseau, and the many ways in which her worldview, wisdom and influence have been expanded since her marriage.

“I find it so much easier now than before I was married to give conversation a graver turn, even at a ball.  I feel I know what people really are almost at once.  I have had such earnest talks in ball-rooms, Di, and at dinner-parties.  Have you?”

“No,” said Di.  “I distrust a man who talks seriously over a pink ice the first time I meet him.”

“You always take a low view, Di,” said Madeleine regretfully.  “You always have, and you always will.  It does not make me less fond of you; but I am often sorry, when we talk together, to notice how unrefined your ideas are.

Diana is saved from further tuition by the dressing-bell, and on her way out the door, takes the opportunity of returning the favour by providing Madeleine with a small sartorial tip.

“…I will leave you to prepare for victory.  I warn you, Mrs. Clifford has one gown, a Cresser, which is bad to beat – a lemon satin, with an emerald velvet train; but she may not put it on.”

“I never vie with others in dress,” said Madeleine.  “I think it shows such a want of good taste.  Did she wear it last night?”

“She did.”

“Oh! Then she won’t wear it again.”

As Diana later muses, “How is it that some people can do things that one would be ashamed one’s self even to think of, and yet keep a good opinion of themselves afterwards, and feel superior to others?  It is the feeling superior I envy.  It must make the world such an easy place to live in.”



One Comment Add yours

  1. gmeaney says:

    I think Diana beats her on insults all the same. Such an easy place to live in, indeed

    Liked by 1 person

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