Thursday, 13 June 2013

The Victorian Daughter

'Born in the wrong era', she wrote in the leather-bound book that recorded all her visitors. Recording who they were and why they came, and even what they ate.
To whom are you referring?” Asked her Mama who had just walked in and was reading over her shoulder.
That pretty little thing that just left. The one with curls coming loose from beneath her hat.”
And, what do you mean by that? 'Born in the wrong era'? Mama enquired as she settled herself in her usual spot on the sofa.
Just that. She seemed different, as if she was from a time that's not come to pass yet.” She said continuing to log today's other visitors, including her mother's friends who had complained about their state of health.
Henrietta, I wish you would stop doing that! Rebuked her Mama. “I wish I'd never bought you that book or persuaded you to indulge in the classics. It's gone to your head and I've had quite enough!”
Yes Mama.” She replied obediently, but she'd obviously said the wrong thing for when Mama next spoke her voice was raised a couple of octaves.
Do not call me Mama! I'm not your Mama, I'm your Mum! We may live in Shere, but let's not forget, we're living in the 21st century!
But Henrietta still only replied, “Yes Mama, I'll try.”
Mama gave a deep sigh, rose from the sofa and flounced out of the period-style drawing room with her skirts rustling.
Henrietta, now left alone contemplated her future. Her future in this strange world she'd been born in. Aged 15, she'd recently attended her first interview with St. Theresa's Careers Advisor, Mrs Mason, which had resulted in her being sent home. As far as Henrietta was concerned, she had only been truthful.
Hen, what do you want to do?” Mrs Mason had asked her.
I want to train to be a governess and find my Mr Rochester. One day I hope to utter those words, 'Reader, I married him'.” Mrs Mason had thought she was joking, but she spoke so eloquently and passionately, she quickly realised she wasn't. Mrs Mason had questioned her further, and had seemed alarmed when she'd admitted she didn't want a life like her dear Mama's: smelling salts, taking the air or the water. The 'sofa life' as she called it. Mrs Mason was worried, so she'd been sent home with a note from the Head that said:
Henrietta is unwell. She seems to think she's a Victorian daughter, and needs to regain her sense of the past and present. We advise you to keep her home until she is willing to concede to the 21st century.
On reading the note, Mama had been frantic, sobbing and wailing, until she finally took to her bed for three days, saying 'I'm so ill' over and over. Papa had been calmer, thinking it was female hysteria, and said Henrietta could be schooled in the nursery and at times receive visitors in the parlour. He thought playing at home would be the answer, but instead to their horror, Henrietta became more immersed.
She divorced herself from present day life completely, layering herself only in clothes from the era: boned corsets, camisoles, buttoned bodices, crinolines, shawls, mitts, and boots with buttons. She refused to use modern transport, but would walk or ride an old fashioned bicycle to get to and from local places. If she was travelling further afield, she would try to do so by steam locomotive, but as this was usually not possible, her Papa would end up hiring a horse-drawn carriage or a motor car, and she spoke about the Great Exhibition of 1851 as if she had been there. It was an extraordinarily complex age, which was why she loved it: it had modesty and propriety, and was also rich culturally.
Henrietta did concede partially, but to her the modern age would always seem harsh and unnatural.

*Inspired by 'A Suppressed Cry – The Short Life of a Victorian Daughter' by Victoria Glendinning.