Sorry Her Lot Who Loves Too Well

by Erin on June 20, 2007


Sorry Her Lot Who Loves Too Well

Since I'm talking at O'Reilly's Tools of Change for Publishing conference today (I'm the last speaker), I figured I should post something book-related … so I went back to the Google Book Search well, and found this gem:

She was very simply dressed; nothing of the grande dame, en toilette de soir, about her as she received her friends. Her dark-colored gown was high nearly to the neck, with sleeves reaching to the elbow, a single row of beautiful lace falling back from the statuesque throat, and over the shapely arms. A rich cream "rose de Provence" was her only ornament. She looked dark and shadowy, yet brilliant, —with that soft brilliancy with which the flowers gleam, as they nestle in their dark-green foliage, beneath the moonlight of an Eastern night.

It's from Sorry Her Lot Who Loves Too Well by Maria Grant (1879) and I think I may have to download it and read the whole thing, just so I can understand this line:

Donna has been a Gentianella (I will not have her called a bluestocking) for years; and she could tell you astonishing things! Why, she is regularly scientific!

What's a Gentianella, that it would be contrasted with bluestocking?

The title of the book is from HMS Pinafore, btw, which I didn't know until I googled it (I'm a Penzance person, myself). And the image is from Nineteenth-Century Fashions: A Compendium. Go forth and explore.

{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

Anonymous June 20, 2007 at 11:26 am

Gentianella is a plant from the Gentian family; blueish purple plants. Perhaps it is a play on words, not quite a bluestocking…or perhaps it was a club for intellectually curious women of the time.Gina

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Lisa June 20, 2007 at 11:36 am

Bluestocking is “a general or perjorative term for literary or intellectual women” according to Wikipedia. More fun stuff at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bluestocking

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Pargolo June 20, 2007 at 11:55 am

i think there were flowers nicknamed bluestocking, as well as the other meaning for bluestocking of intellectual women.So perhaps she’s making a joke about bluestocking flower meaning/popular meaning.

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xstpenguin June 20, 2007 at 11:57 am

I, too, am a ‘Penzance person’! (“frequently, often, but only once”)However, I always liked the line from Pinafore about “his sisters and his cousins and his aunts”. The Mikado, of course, has one of my favourite (lame!) visual jokes. “I’ve got a little list” and then I lean to one side. Since many of my friends here are not native English speakers (French, Italian, Danish, German…) this is often completely lost on my audience. But it amuses me!

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Marie-Christine June 20, 2007 at 12:06 pm

Definitely sounds like gentianella is ‘a dwarf gentian’, by extension a purplish blue color, and so might apply to a derivative of a bluestocking in the female sense. And every scientific woman is by definition a bluestocking (more scientific than the man who’s speaking at least, which may not be very hard). Sigh. Wish this was outdated, but…

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scarabee June 20, 2007 at 2:02 pm

Well, if a Gentianella was called a bluestocking commonly, then insisting that the woman in question be named a Gentianella would be insisting that there is little (nothing?) common about her (and by extension, about being a female scientist?)Just a thought. After all, I, too, am a bit of a bluestocking (even if my socks are purple today).

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Anonymous June 20, 2007 at 4:22 pm

“In the 1700s, wearing warm-and-woolly dark blue worsted stockings rather than the black silk stockings of formal, citified fashion was the equivalent of wearing jeans today.It was the common denominator of casual dress. ” (bas blu.com)Perhaps the good authress was trying to compliment her friend’s fashion, and still reference her intellect. (a bluestocking – interested in science and learning AND female, but even more than than, a gentianella – more fashionable and beautiful than those darn casual but practical bluestockings) – kathy

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Latter-Day Flapper June 21, 2007 at 8:15 am

My guess is that the author was simply trying to find a prettier term than “bluestocking” (which sounds pretty cloddish no matter what it means) for a character who is the epitome of a lady. Also, and I’m sure this is a really big stretch in this case, in 1879, it was not very polite to refer to women’s undergarments or legs. Furthermore, intellectual women were sometimes looked at askance as “masculinized” by some. “Bluestocking” probably sounded rather crass, whereas “Gentianella”, if the flower is blue, plays on the idea but with the connotation that the woman to whom it is applied retains her feminine delicacy.

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loshakova June 21, 2007 at 10:57 pm

Pargolo is right…there is a variety of Bee Balm called ‘Blue Stocking’. In contrast to Gentianella, which is delicate and short in stature, Blue Stocking is an aggressive perennial that likes the East Coast. So it’s a double play on words!

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Anonymous June 23, 2007 at 3:55 pm

Now a REAL Penzance person would remember that Joseph Papp included the song “Sorry Her Lot” from Pinafore in his movie version of The Pirates of Penzance, with the song nicely performed by Linda Ronstadt. He also borrowed from Ruddigore. Guess he figured getting as much Gilbert & Sullivan in one movie as possible mattered, as it was unlikely there would be another. Too bad nobody’s tried it again!

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Anonymous June 27, 2007 at 7:24 am

I believe the images of that dress may be from one of the Whittaker auctions http://www.whitakerauction.com/ although the website doesn’t credit it.

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