Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Cleaning Duties

I shall sit at home, and rock;
Rise, to heed a neighbour's knock;
Brew my tea, and snip my thread;
Bleach the linen for my bed.
From Penelope by Dorothy Parker
Aren't I glad I don't live in the olden days.  It is on record that I am all thumbs when it comes to sewing and the decorative home arts.  What did girls like me do while sitting around the fire?  A basket of embroidery for a companion would have been a gloomy prospect.  I've no musical talent either so I wouldn't have been practising  the harpsichord.


Ah, I can see plainly now that I would have been on cleaning duties. The penny's dropped. That's me polishing the brass and rinsing out the dusting clothes. That's me with housemaid's knee and calloused hands; hair and clothes in a shambles -- more Georgian middle class than nobility. 

My reference book then would have been The Book of Household Management, Mrs. Beeton, 1881 edition.  For a latter day online reference, I prefer Jane Austen's World, an incredibly comprehensive source which makes me grateful for my modern appliances and antiseptics.

Once prominent, the valet’s gone;
What’s that, you say — he’s not?
My god, you’re absolutely right;
He now works in the parking lot.

Photos: Cook's Cottage (actually his parent's, built in 1755), Fitzroy Gardens, Melbourne, July 2012.


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