A couple of years ago I read and loved To the Lighthouse (LH post); now I’m reading the other of Woolf’s books that I think is generally acknowledged as a masterpiece, Mrs. Dalloway, and I’m just as enthralled as I remember being the last time I read it, decades ago. This time around, not only do I read with more understanding in general, but the internet permits me to look up and instantly absorb references that escaped me the first time. When she mentions Devonshire House and Bath House, I discover they’re grand mansions on Piccadilly, along which Clarissa Dalloway is walking, and when she writes “There were Jorrocks’ Jaunts and Jollities; there were Soapy Sponge and Mrs. Asquith’s Memoirs and Big Game Shooting in Nigeria…” Google tells me that the first two items are by the popular Victorian writer R. S. Surtees (and furthermore that the italics I have reproduced from my HBJ paperback are wrong, since “Jorrocks’” is part of the title and should be ital, whereas “Soapy” Sponge is the protagonist of some of his writings and not a title and should not be ital). And here are a couple of sentences that made me glad of my access to the OED:
Gliding across Piccadilly, the car turned down St. James’s Street. Tall men, men of robust physique, well-dressed men with their tail-coats and their white slips and their hair raked back who, for reasons difficult to discriminate, were standing in the bow window of Brooks’s with their hands behind the tails of their coats, looking out, perceived instinctively that greatness was passing, and the pale light of the immortal presence fell upon them as it had fallen upon Clarissa Dalloway.
I, like any modern speaker of English, think of a slip as a woman’s undergarment, so I was taken aback by these “well-dressed men with their tail-coats and their white slips,” but the OED explained that this was “A light under-waistcoat with the edge showing to form a border to a waistcoat worn with morning dress”; here are the citations:
1933 C. St. J. Sprigg Fatality in Fleet St. viii. 98 Oakley looked like..a monkey which had surprisingly been trained to wear a morning-coat and grey slip.
1941 H. G. Wells You can’t be too Careful iii. x. 158 And you looking lovely in a silk hat and light grey trousers. You’ll have, you know, white slips to your waistcoat.
I can’t quite picture it, but at least I know what it is. And the OED entry (from 1912) doesn’t even mention the modern sense; I wonder how old it is?