Wednesday, 17 October 2018

#WednesdayWords - Paisley Pattern in Victorian novels

This Wednesday we have writer and poet Gail Aldwin talking to us about Paisley Pattern in Victorian novels...

by Gail Aldwin

Shawls designed in a pattern commonly known in Britain as paisley were by the 1850s an indispensable item of Victorian women's wear.

They were a marker of respectability as shown by the character of Esther in Elizabeth Gaskell's Mary Barton, who dispenses with her prostitute's attire to find a shawl at a pawnbrokers which is considered suitable attire.

Poor women wore paisley shawls made from wool or cotton while hand woven shawls from Kashmir made from "several grades of hair from two or more species of Asian goat" were the preference of the prosperous middle classes.

In another novel by Elizabeth Gaskell, North and South, shawls and scarves from India are inherited or handed down.

Mrs Shaw gives her collection to her daughter Edith but due to her slight stature, Edith prefers to use them as picnic blankets. It is on Margaret that a shawl suits "as an empress wears her drapery".

Preference for handcrafted goods leaves Margaret at odds with Mr Thornton but by the end of the novel Margaret inherits land and marries him.

As paisley shawls are included in great classic work, why not include paisley print in contemporary fiction? Read my story Paisley Shirt included in the collection of the same name to find out about its influence in my writing.

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