I went to the Morgan Library & Museum with a gorgeous and exceptionally nice friend* earlier this year. How nice is my friend? After I told her there was no need to apologize for a statement that didn’t offend me in the slightest, she apologized for the apology. She is the only person I know who needs to be a little meaner, so I was delighted to show her an example of vintage bitchery in an exhibit called A Woman’s Wit: Jane Austen’s Life and Legacy. In a September 1796 letter to her sister Cassandra, Jane Austen damned a fellow party guest with this faint praise:
“Miss Fletcher and I were very thick, but I am the thinnest of the two – She wore her purple Muslin, which is pretty enough, tho’ it does not become her complexion. There are two Traits in her Character which are pleasing; namely, she admires Camilla, & drinks no cream in her Tea.”
You know Cassandra was like, “Oh no, she di’int!” when she read the letter. When I read it, I dragged my friend over and said, “If Jane Austen can say something like that, you can too.”
The Jane Austen exhibit is over but Demons and Devotion: The Hours of Catherine of Cleves, an exhibit of an illuminated prayer book from the 1440s, runs through May 2. No reproduction of the images does justice to the brilliant colors — particularly the blue and yellow — surrounded by gold, but if you’re not going to be in New York and like medieval art, the book of the exhibit is available.
Sadly, there are no images of the cream-avoiding Miss Fletcher in her purple dress, but you can click here to see me wearing purple. If you want to say bitchy things about whether purple becomes me, save it for your sister because I’m not interested.
*Name withheld to protect the extremely nice.