Not Quite Voila-Tout

By Alison August 25, 2013 3 Comments 7 Min Read

“THE clearest lights on persons are small salient personal facts and items about them and their ways of life.
To know that a woman is ‘sensitive’ is to have but a blurred conception of her as one easily impressed, easily hurt. But to know that she wears thick union-suitish under-clothes and uncompromising cotton stockings is to know much about her: by those tokens she is plain: she is stupid: she is smugly virtuous: she is poor: she is narrow-thoughted: she lacks imagination: she is prosaic: she has a defective sense of humor: she is catty: she is ‘kind’: she catches cold: she is a thoroughly good woman.
To know that a child is ‘bright’ is to have no definite knowledge of the child. But to know she flies into rages and bites whisk-brooms, laces and her fragile grandmother is to have a wide-beamed far-reaching spirit-light upon her.
That I am ‘thoughtful’ means little or anything or nothing: that I love the odor of ink, that I hate the stings of conscience, that I never lounge untidily about the house or in my room but am always ‘groomed,’—those tell me to myself.
Here for my enlightening I write a garbled list of my items and facts:
—I never see a soft new yeast-cake without wishing to squeeze it for the salubrious feeling of the tinfoil bursting facilely and the yeast oozing with its odd dry juiciness through my fingers.
—And I never see a shiny waxy green rubber plant without wanting to bite the leaves precisely and daintily with my sharp teeth.
—My luncheon each late midday is made of four radishes, three crackers and a thin glass of water: an anchoretic feast which I eat with relish. The rhyme I murmur with it is: ‘what do you think, she lives upon nothing but victuals and drink.’
—I scent my belongings faintly with Houbigant’s Quelques Violettes perfume.
—I like to light a box of matches at a twilight window-sill singly and by twos and threes and little bunches, and hold them till they burn out, and watch the little flames, and drop the burnt ends out the window: a pastime inherited from my child-self.
—Of living creatures that I know I most hate cockroaches.
—Of inanimate things that I know I most hate a loose shutter rattling at night in the wind.
—While I smoke after-dinner cigarettes down-stairs I put flat round black records on a tall red Edison phonograph and I curl up in a leather chair in the dark to listen to the music which is soft and deep: ‘Che Gelida Manina’ in a wistful tenor, and ‘Refrain Audacious Tar,’ and ‘Ah Quel Giorno,’ and ‘Scenes That are Brightest’ and others and others—tantalizing, tawdry, artistic, cheaply pleasant, luring, whatnot. And by turns it makes me lighthearted, lightheaded, emotional, romantic, restless, evilly coarse. It is piquant debauchery. Music sweetly poisons me.
—My bureau-drawers I keep neatly in order—lingerie and other articles arranged convenient to my hand in white rows and fragrant tidy piles: with the exception of the upper left-hand drawer which is a bit of terrific snarled chaos. In it is an inky handkerchief of an old vintage: in it are several un-mated crumpled gloves: in it are some olive-pits: in it is an empty sticky liquid cold-cream bottle with tufts of eider-down power-puff stuck to it: in it is a tangle of smudged ribbons: in it are two pieces of pink rock-candy: in it is a spent yellow-silk garter: in it is a torn sponge: in it are blackened pieces of chamois-skin: in it is a broken scissors: in it are three twisted ragged black-net veils: in it is a brass curtain ring: in it is a broken scattered string of coral beads: in it is a lump of wax: in it is a piece of knotted twine: in it are little bunches of cotton-wool: in it is a spilled box of powder whitening everything: in it is a spilled box of matches: in it is a jet bracelet broken into small pieces: in it is a broken hand-mirror: in it are some crushed cigarettes: in it is a ruined blue plume: in it is a warped leather purse: in it is a damaged lump of red fingernail paste: in it is a stick of gum arabic: in it is a bisque kewpie defiled by wax, ink, paste, powder and rock-candy: in it are some partly melted vestas: in it are other bits of rubbish: all in wildest disorder. Why I do not empty the drawer and burn the rubbish I don’t at all know.
—I sometimes take one or two of the neighborhood children to a picture-show.
—Sometimes as I lean at my window I alternate looking at the distant deeply-blue mountains by looking at the near-by women who chance to pass on the stone pavement below—the smartly-clad and lighthearted-seeming ones. I look at their good shoulders in pastel-toned silk and at their trim silk ankles and proud flaring skirts and insolent beautiful hats—the buoyant worldly insouciance of their ensembles—as their owners walk along on happy errands. As I look I feel Me to be behind prison bars looking out in thin psychic jealousy: regret for a time when I also went thus buoyantly on happy worldly errands and an odd raging silent impatience for a time when I may again. But with it too the wavering acquiescence in this analytic-writing mood.—‘pussy-cat-mieow,’ I ruminate, ‘can’t have any milk until her best petticoat’s mended with silk.’
—One kind of man I impatiently scorn is the kind that looks bored if I mention Ibsen or ceramics or Aztec civilization but is interested instantly, alertly if I mention my garters. Equally I abhor the type that begrudges me my own private phases of amorousness: not those who condemn me for them: not those who dislike them in me: not those who deplore them: but who begrudge me them.
—Always I come up a stairway softly. Always I close doors softly. I make no noise.
—The quaintest character I have met with in fiction is Huckleberry Finn’s father, looked at as a father. Next in quaintness I place Sally Brass, regarded as a human being.
—I like a glass of very hot water and a dish of preserved damson plums on a sultry August day: and another of each on top of that: and another 0f each on top of that.
—I like the word addle: I hate the word redress. I would fain have my ‘wrongs’ ever addled than redressed: merely for the word prejudice.
—I would rather that almost any physical disaster should befall me than that I ever achieve an ‘abdomen.’ When an abdomen comes in at the door life’s romances fly fast out the windows: so it looks to me. May death overtake me haply before the menopause.
—The pictures I have crowded on a small side-wall space two feet from my eyes as I sit at my desk are: Theda Bara as Carmen: the late Queen Isabella of Spain: Marie Lloyd, loved of the London populace: a velvety-looking black-and-orange print of a leopard: Blanche Sweet, loveliest of film actors: John Keats, a small old print: Ethel Barrymore, a pencil drawing made by herself: Nell Gwyn, a photograph of a Lely portrait: Watts’s ‘Hope’: Stanley Ketchel, dead middle-weight fighter: ‘Jane Eyre’ by a Polish artist: Fanny Brawn, the solitary extant silhouette print: Ty Cobb: two children: Charlotte Corday in the Prison de l’Abbaye: Susan B. Anthony: a Chinese lady: Andrea del Sarto: Queen Boadicea: and Christy Mathewson.
—I am old-fashioned in many of my tastes—in all my reading and writing tastes. I do not like typewriters: they make fingertips callous in a poor cause. And I do not like fountain-pens which someway seem suitable only for business-letters, forgeries, bookkeeping and crude cursory love-letters. I like a steel pen in a fat glossy green enameled wood penholder with a thick pleasant-feeling rubber sheath at the lower end.
—I wear to-day a modest frock of black silk: beneath it a light silk petticoat: beneath that a white pussy-willow silk ‘envelope’ and a pale narrow pink silk shirt chastened by many launderings: no stays: thick white silk stockings gartered above my knees by circles of mild mauve elastic: on my feet cross-ribboned bright-buckled black shoes: round my neck a jet necklace:—all of it a costume that might be of a conventional woman, a plain-living woman, a good woman, a well-bred woman—saving only that beneath my left shoulder-blade the smooth new pussy-willow silk has a jagged two-inch rent where it caught on a drawer-handle: and the rent—in lieu of neatly mending it with the thread and needle of woman’s custom—I caught up any way by its jagged edges and tied tight in a hard vicious heathen knot: the note of spiritual fornication, of Mary-Mac-Laneness: always there’s some involuntary pagan touch to undo me, to arraign me, to betray me to God and to myself.
—I wear five-and-a-half A-last shoes: number twenty-one snug whalebone stays: and weigh a hundred-twenty-four pounds.
—I am fond of green peas, baseball and diamond rings.
—Sometimes when I’m dressing in the morning I glance down through my window and see two elderly Butte business men, one a lawyer and one a banker, going by on the way to their offices. And I wonder at how frightfully respectable they look in their tailored clothes and reproachless gloves and perfectly celestial-looking hats. I murmur: ‘Robin and Richard were two pretty men who lay in bed till the clock struck ten.’
—I keep on my desk a little doll with fluffy skirts, blue eyes, pouting lips and curly hair and named Little Jane Lee after an adorable child I have seen in moving pictures.
—I am five feet six inches tall in my highish heels:
—I wear number six gloves: the calf of my leg is a shapely thing.
—The six extant Americans I most admire are Thomas A. Edison, Harriet Monroe, Gertrude Atherton, Theodore Roosevelt, the remaining Wright Brother, and Amy Lowell.
—I think I’d learn to be a cook, a professional cook, if I were less easily fatigued.
—I love the sound of the clinking of two clean new white clay pipes, one upon the other.
—I crack nuts with my teeth.
But not quite voilà-tout.”

Mary Maclane, 1917.

(If you haven’t encountered the fiery, feminist writing of Mary Maclane, you are in for a treat!)


  1. Mrs Danvers says:

    If you like this you’ll adore Colette

  2. Annmarie says:

    — I can’t pass someone I know who is bending over to tie their shoe or pick something up without giving them a little kick in the rear. I’d love to do it to strangers, but I don’t want them to think I’m odd.
    — Whenever someone mentions Niagara Falls, I can’t help but doing the old “Niagara Falls! Slowly I turn..” bit, and I have done that to strangers.
    — I am 5’3″, and if you had to pick the American out of a lineup, it would be me.
    — I love to laugh and make noise.
    — I can’t stand the smell of lavender (sorry), I do like the smell of heather. I also love the rose scent of Flonase. Why can’t the put that scent in a bottle?

  3. Antonella says:


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