This is an utterly delightful social study on umbrellas — what they have meant throughout history, how we use them today, and what they signify in literature. Rankine ruminates on the construction of the rain shield and what it feels like to be under one and how it alters the way we think and feel in that moment.

It is time to look at the umbrella as an experience — the intensely solitary experience of standing beneath a brolly in the rain. For an umbrella is not just a shelter, shadow, shield or an archaic indicator of gender or socioeconomic status. An umbrella is your own fragment of roof. ~Loc. 877

The umbrella is a status symbol, in its construction, its style, its size and its fabric. And misusing one is as good as lying. Robert Louis Stevenson wrote:

A mendacious umbrella is a sign of great moral degradation. Hypocrisy naturally shelters itself below a silk; while the fast youth goes to visit his religious friends armed with the decent and reputable gingham. May it not be said of the bearers of these inappropriate umbrellas that they go about the streets ‘with a lie in their right hand’?” ~Loc.1028

It became a prop for Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, a mode of transportation for Mary Poppins, shelter for Robinson Crusoe, and a weapon in Harry Potter, She ponders its omnipresence in a Dickens novel and the theft of one in a Roald Dahl story. She traces its importance as a symbol of independence and an item that is just as easily forgotten in the corner pub. She even tackles the semiotics of how an umbrella — a device for keeping dry — has come to symbolize “wetness.”

The book is both fascinating and entertaining. It is chock full of literary and philosophical references but at all times remains completely accessible to a curious reader. A walk in the rain will never be quite the same.

My thanks to Melville House for the preview copy. Read via NetGalley.


Brolliology: A History of the Umbrella in Life and Literature
By Marion Rankine
Hardcover: 204 pages
Publisher: Melville House (November 7, 2017)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1612196705
ISBN-13: 978-1612196701

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