So why are shoes such a potent symbol for me? It is partly because they’re a metaphor for a mode of transportation and transformation. Look at Dorothy in Frank L Baum’s The Wizard of Oz – her silver slippers (miraculously turned to glistening ruby in the film) are able to take her home with a click of her heels.
Shoes take us places literally, but also a change of shoes can bring about a change of personality. Put on a different pair of shoes and you become suddenly someone else. As a child I read the terrifying The Red Shoes by Hans Andersen. Nearly everyone knows the tale where the shoes take on a mind of their own. Vain Karen is horrified to discover that she cannot remove the shoes as they are welded to her feet. Worse, they continue to dance on against her will. Even when she cuts off her feet the wilful shoes continue to dance their macabre polka.
But the oldest shoe in the world is not at Northampton. It is a sagebrush bark fibre sandal in the University of Oregon Museum of Natural and Cultural History. It was found in Fort Rock Cave in central Oregon in 1938, and is probably 10,500 years old. Most likely it was worn by a native North American who lived in caves during the winter months and hunted in marshes in summer. Tom Connolly, the museum's research director says of the sandals, “the charred pinpricks on the toe flaps allow you to put yourself at a fireside.”
And for me shoes are objects that reflect not only the aesthetic and fashionable concerns of the day, but also the practical. Looking at them you sense the foot of the wearer, but also the terrain on which they stood.
But one of the oddest thing about old shoes is that they were often concealed and hidden in old buildings. Nobody knows why, but it was supposed that a shoe trapped the spirit of the wearer, and some 1,700 concealed shoes have been found—not just in Britain, but in Germany, Australia, Canada and the United States. More information here.
These have been recorded in a registry by June Swann, Curator at the Northampton Shoe Museum, who according to a National Geographic article, “doesn't just read books for plot. She reads them for shoes. Madame Bovary's lover gave her a pair of pink satin shoes trimmed in swan down. Jonathan Swift mentioned wood-soled shoes in Gulliver's Travels.”
And I am proud to be a follower in her footsteps.
UK (left) and US covers for The Lady’s Slipper
Find out more about Deborah Swift at her website or at her blog. The Lady's Slipper is released in the UK on 4 June 2010, and will be released in the US in November. Here's the synopsis:
It is 1660. The King is back, but memories of the Civil War still rankle. In rural Westmorland, artist Alice Ibbetson has become captivated by the rare Lady's Slipper orchid. She is determined to capture its unique beauty for posterity, even if it means stealing the flower from the land of recently converted Quaker, Richard Wheeler. Fired by his newfound faith, the former soldier Wheeler feels bound to track down the missing orchid. Meanwhile, others are eager to lay hands on the flower, and have their own powerful motives. Margaret Poulter, a local medicine woman, is seduced by the orchid's mysterious herbal powers, while Sir Geoffrey Fisk, Alice's patron and a bitter enemy of Wheeler, sees the valuable plant as a way to repair his ailing fortunes and cure his own agonizing illness. Fearing that Wheeler and his new friends are planning revolution, Fisk sends his son Stephen to spy on the Quakers, only for the young man to find his loyalties divided as he befriends the group he has been sent to investigate. Then, when Alice Ibbetson is implicated in a brutal murder, she is imprisoned along with the suspected anti-royalist Wheeler. As Fisk's sanity grows ever more precarious, and Wheeler and Alice plot their escape, a storm begins to brew, from which no party will escape unscathed. Vivid, gripping and intensely atmospheric, "The Lady's Slipper" is a novel about beauty, faith and loyalty. It marks the emergence of an exquisite new voice in historical fiction.
*******************Thanks to Deborah Swift and Macmillan (UK), we are very pleased to have 3 copies of this book to giveaway! In order to win leave a comment about your favourite shoes in fact or fiction, along with a valid email address.
- leave comment about your favourite shoes in fact or fiction
- the giveaway is open to UK residents only
- only one entry per person
- please leave us a valid email adress
- open until the 11th June 2010 midnight GMT
Three winners will be choosed randomly using random.org and their names and addresses will be sent to the publisher who will ship the books directly to them. Good luck to everyone!
Feel free to leave a comment as well even if you can't win the prize.