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Dressing Vorticist (Violet Hunt)

Extract from The Flurried Years - Violet Hunt's account of her life between 1908 and 1914.

A languid airless summer, rife with Law and Cubism, spent at Selsey with Princess Maleine as sole guest and play-secretary. Her husband flitted backwards and forwards in his car, now recalling her, now giving her a new leave of absence. Joseph Leopold*, playing golf,eating little contraband crabs, writing poems, and helping me with my novel, and taking a car into Chichester on Sundays to attend Mass in his own church, contrived to wile the summer away. He wrote Impressionist ; she painted Futurist; in dress, we two women went a step farther and dressed Vorticist, which was newer than Futurism, than Cubism, than Impressionism, old-fashioned almost by now, but which Joseph Leopold was still practising in his cunning vers libres.

The very clothes we rejoiced to wear made us feel like it ; they coarsened us, I think. Non-representational art makes for hardness, enjoins the cynicism that likes to look upon the crudenesses, the necessaries of life merely — the red of beef, the blue of blouses, the shine of steel knives in a butcher's shop. Better, said Wyndham Lewis, than a dying stag or a virgin in Greek dress picking daisies. But this kind of art died in the war, being relegated chiefly to the camouflaging of ships. A faint echo of it is to be seen in modern jazz.

My friend was very beautiful, with a queer, large, tortured mouth that said the wittiest things, eyes that tore your soul out of your body for pity and yet danced. She had no physique, as doctors would say ; no health, as women would say ; and — as no woman would ever admit except me — charm enough to damn a regiment. I used to call her the Leaning Tower, or Princess Maleine, that heroine of Maeterlinck who, with her maid, was prisoned in a tower for ten years and dug herself out with her nails. She ought not to have dressed in butcher blue with red blood spots on it. She was much more like one of those delicate, anaemic, mediaeval ladies whose portraits are traced on old tapestries, their small waists seeming to be set between the enormous wings of the hennin** and the heavy rolls of their trains that spread all round their feet. The modern blouse and skirt of Maleine, born out of her century, always appeared to be falling off her, her crown of heavy hair toppling, her deep brown eyes protesting against Fate and the absurd limitations of behaviour applied to supermen and underwomen. She was no real suffragette, though she had collected with me and rattled a box at stations. Nothing but her eyes protested.

* Ford Madox Ford

**The hennin was a headdress in the shape of a cone or steeple, or truncated cone worn in the late Middle Ages by European women of the nobility.

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