On Subtlety

Longreads

Meghan O’Gieblyn | Interior States | Anchor | October 2018 | 13 minutes (6,551 words)

I.

In ancient Rome, there were certain fabrics so delicate and finely stitched they were called subtilis, literally “underwoven.” The word—from which came the Old French soutil and the English subtle—often described the gossamer-like material that was used to make veils. I think of organza or the finest blends of silk chiffon, material that is opaque when gathered but sheer when stretched and translucent when held up to the light. Most wedding veils sold today use a special kind of tulle called “bridal illusion,” a term I’ve always loved, as it calls attention to the odd abracadabra of the veil, an accoutrement that is designed to simultaneously reveal and conceal.

II.

Doris Lessing once complained that her novel The Golden Notebook was widely misinterpreted. For her, the story was about the theme of “breakdown,”…

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