Origins of a Name: Part Deux

Hans Castorp on women, clothes, beauty:

Hans Castorp began to daydream, his eyes directed at Frau Chauchat's arm. The way women dressed! They displayed this or that portion of their necks and breasts, lent their arms a radiant illusion with transparent gossamer. They did it all over the world, just to arouse our ardent desires. My God, but life was beautiful! And one of the things that made it so beautiful was that women dressed so enticingly, simply as a matter of course. It was second nature to them, and such a universally accepted practice that you hardly ever thought about it, just accepted it unconsciously, without further ado.

As much as I admire his rapturous statements, I don't think I can quite agree with what he says about the intentions of a woman. I agree that there is a certain naturalness in the putting on of clothing, and an aesthetic innateness to the putting on of clothing in a pleasing way. But a question lurks in the above text: How much of what we wear is dictated by who we want to see us. Many people fool themselves into believing that they wear something only for their own pleasure, divorced from any care for the opinions that their clothing may inspire in others.

A teenager chooses to rip, shred, and paint because that's what expresses "her style."
A woman chooses soft fabrics and form-enhancing shapes because she "feels comfortable like that."
A man refuses to wear a tie or jacket because "it's just not him."

These are all true...but none of them are the whole truth. The whole truth is that we cannot get away from the fact that there are other people in the world who observe us, form opinions of us, like us, or dislike us. The one thing we can control in the face of this fact is our acceptance of it.

Wear what you like, but don't deny that you know you're pitching a certain image.

The supreme Clavdia Chauchat outfit...the evening she and Hans share a conversation, the evening that takes place in the chapter named Walpurgis Night. It's an evening of seduction and the dress fits the mood:

There was reason enough for him to turn pale. Frau Chauchat had likewise dressed for the occasion and was wearing a new gown, or at least a gown that Hans Castorp had never seen on her--of thin, dark, almost black silk that sometimes took on a tawny shimmer; the rounded cut of the neck was small, almost girlish, barely enough to expose the throat or even a hint of collarbone--or her protruding neck bones visible beneath a few stray hairs when she thrust her head forward in that special way. But it left Clavdia's arms bare all the way to the shoulder--her arms, so tender and full at the same time, and cool, one could only presume--so that they stood out extraordinarily white against the dark shadows of the silk. The effect was so overwhelming that Hans Castorp closed his eyes and whispered to himself, "My God!"


These passages fail to do justice to the extraordinary story...please read this book, it tends to have a magical effect on the reader, transforming him into an invalid who cannot escape his own slightly drowsy addiction to abandonment...though in the reader it's abandonment to a story.