Give Puce a Chance
Georgette Heyer’s preoccupation with the colour puce has been well-documented, but the reasons for her apparent dislike remain unknown. ‘Puce‘ comes from the French word for ‘flea’ and the colour itself is said to be the colour of the bloodstain which is left on the bedclothes after the flea has been squashed!
My personal favourite Heyer ‘puce‘ conversation comes from Devil’s Cub:
He was annoyed, and showed it. “I believe you’ve not heard one word!” he said.
“I was thinking,” said Mary thoughtfully, “that puce does not become you, Joshua.”
“Puce?” stammered Mr Simpkins. “Become me? What — Why –?”
“It is maybe your complexion that’s too high for it,” mused Miss Challoner.
Mr Simpkins said with dignity: “I was speaking of Sophia, Mary.”
“I’m sure she would agree with me,” replied the lady maddeningly.
“She’s too easy, cousin. She don’t know the path she treads,” Joshua said, trying to bring the conversations back to its original topic. “She’s very different from you, you know.”
A slow smile curled Miss Challoner’s lips. “I do, of course, but it’s hardly kind in you to tell me so,” she said.
“In my eyes,” declared Joshua, “you are the prettier.”
Miss Challoner seemed to consider this. “Yes?” she said interestedly. “But then, you chose puce.” She shook her head, and it was apparent she set no store by the compliment.
There are plenty of other puce references … see how many you can identify. No prizes, just the kudos of knowing your Heyer!
For each of the following quotes, can you identify the book and, where applicable, say who X is?
1. … Lady X had exclaimed: “Oh, you are before me! Torquil, my son!” She moved forward, in a cloud of puce satin and gauze, holding out her hands to him.
2. “Raise you a hundred, gentlemen,” X said, and lay back in his chair, feeling in his capacious pocket for his snuff-box. He pulled it out, and opened it, and took a pinch, flashing a quick look around the table. A gentleman in puce satin, and a very large stock buckle, protested that fifty was deep enough.
3. Miss X, whose striking beauty could well support the trying colour, was wearing a new gown of pale puce satin and net to the ball, and with this George’s violets could not be said to agree.
4. Critically surveying the sketch and mentally eradicating from it such additions to the ensemble as a purple-puce shawl, a tiara and a black lace head-veil, X came to the conclusion that Charis’ instinct had not betrayed her.
5. “But De Chambert wears puce small-clothes,” objected X. “Does he? Mordieu, I’d like to see that!…”
6. “Yes, quite important. I think the new habit, the coat dos de puce – or is that a thought sombre for the errand? I believe the blue velvet will be more fitting. And the perruque á bourse? You prefer the Catogan wig, perhaps, but you are wrong, my dear boy, I am convinced you are wrong …”
7. “On no account!” said X decidedly. She waited until Mr Wychbold’s attention was claimed by a lady in puce satin, and then turned towards her companion, and said forthrightly: “Are you a very good dancer, sir?”
8. One of these was my Lord March; the other was a slight, elderly gentleman with arresting grey eyes, a nose inclined to be aquiline, and thin smiling lips. He was magnificently attired in puce satin, with an embroidered waistcoat. His wig must surely have come straight from Paris.
9. Undismayed by a gown of puce satin, lavishly adorned with lace and diamonds, and by a headdress supporting a plume of curled feathers clasped by a glittering brooch of opulent dimensions, he had seized the first opportunity that offered of approaching Mrs. Underhill, when the gentlemen joined the ladies after dinner; and it was he who made Sir X known to her.
10. Below, in the hall, gathered about the fire, the gentlemen were waiting, his Grace with orders glittering on a coat of purple satin; Lord Rupert in a pale blue, with much rich lacing, and an elegant flowered waistcoat; Marling in puce; and Davenant in maroon. X paused half-way down the stairs and unfurled her fan.
11. This speech might have been designed to put X at her ease, but she still felt, as she descended from the chaise, that perhaps a puce silk dress, a velvet pelisse, and a feathered bonnet were a little out of place at Fontley.
12. Miss X … an elderly lady whose grey locks had been crimped into ringlets which dangled on either side of an amiable countenance. The absence of a cap proclaimed her spinsterhood; she wore a high-gown of an unbecoming shade of puce; and carried a reticule in one bony hand.
13.The boxes began to fill up, and presently, in the one beside X’s, she observed Sir James Filey, gorgeous in a coat of puce brocade, and leaning over a chair in which a scared-looking child with pale golden ringlets and forget-me-not blue eyes sat bolt upright, clutching a fan between her mittened hands.
14. “The gentleman” – Moggat laid ever so little stress on the word – “is tall, sir, and -er-slim. He is somewhat dark as regards eyes and brows, and he is dressed, if I may say so, exceedingly modishly, with a point-edged hat, and very full-skirted puce coat, laced, French fashion, with – ”
15. “The doctor is a worthy individual, Jim, but he knows even less of the art of dressing than you do. He does not understand the soul-agony of a man who makes his first appearance in puce.”
16.“A jest- the merest jest, I assure you! I had not the least intention – la, do but observe the creature in the puce satin over there!”
17. Lady X was complimenting Madame de Saint-Vire on her gown. “I declare that shade of blue is positively ravishing!” She said. “I searched the town for just such a tafetta not so long ago. La, there is that lady in puce again! Pray who may she be?”
18. The Earl had changed his travelling dress for an evening toilet of puce velvet, with a flowered waistcoat and satin small clothes. He came across the room to X’s side, and bent to kiss her hand. ‘None other, my dear. Am I -now don’t spare me- am I perhaps de trop?’
19. She turned around to look at him. ‘Puce…’tis not the colour I should have chosen, but ’tis well enough.”
20. “Any pleasure Lady Theresa might have derived from the ball had been destroyed by the sight of Cordelia Monksleigh, in a hideous puce gown, standing at the head of the great stairway to receive the guests. She had been unable to banish the reflection that there, but for her own folly, might have stood X, though not, she trusted, in puce.”
21. “If he thinks my ribbons insipid I am astonished that he hadn’t the effrontery to say that your dress was commonplace! Depend upon it, he thinks you would look more becomingly in purple, or puce, or scarlet! Odious creature!”
22. Nothing, thought X, could have been more opportune! Lucy was by far too unaffected to have purposely placed herself beside a plain young female in a dress of a particularly harsh puce, but the effect could not have been more advantageous.
23. … the ladies fell into enthusiastic discussion of current fashions, Miss X showing Lady Buckhaven the picture of a ravishing Chinese robe of lilac silk which she had discovered in one of the numbers of “La Belle Assemblee”, and Lady Buckhaven arguing that a light puce would be more becoming to her new friend.
24. X went to his hostess and dropped on one knee to kiss her hand. He was dressed in puce and old gold. Jenifer thought she had never seen anything so gorgeous, or so astonishing.
25. Encountering at first one or two stares from young bucks, X felt rather conspicuous in being quite unattended, but her alarming frown stood her in good stead, and a rakish gentleman in puce satin who had taken a step in her direction retreated hastily.
26. The puces swore faintly at the scarlet uniforms; the celestial blues and pale greens died; but the white satin turned all the gold-encrusted magnificence into a background to set it off.
27. “No, and I am so glad. And now go on and put on that new puce coat. ‘Tis prodigious modish, and I want you to look very nice to-night.”
28. Out came the cambrics and the muslins: lilac, Pomona green and pale puce, made into wispy round dresses figured with rosebuds, with row upon row of frills round the ankles.
29. “I have conceived a dislike–nay, a veritable hatred–for puce. I will wear blue.”