Sunday, 18 July 2010

Housework in history ~ identical dilemmas

Georgette Heyer is one of my favourite authors, and in my view easily the equal of Jane Austin.  She is full of insight about human nature and social politics and packs in a wealth of historical references.  In "The quiet gentleman" one of her characters, a delightfully candid and ever practical young woman, has this to say about her parents and their friends who were Pantisocrats for a time:
     'They formed the intention of emigrating to the banks of the Susquehanna, but, fortunately, neither Mrs Southey nor Mama considered the scheme practicable, so it was abandoned.  I daresay you may have noticed that persons of large intellect have not the least common-sense.  In this instance, it was intended that there should be no servants, but everyone should devote himself - or herself, as the case might be - for two hours each day to the performance of the necessary domestic duties, after which the rest of the day was to have been occupied in literary pursuits.  But, of course, Mama and Mrs Southey readily perceived that although the gentlemen might adhere to the two-hour-rule, it would be quite impossible for the ladies to do so.  In fact, Mama was of the opinion that although the gentlemen might be induced, if strongly adjured, to draw water, and to chop the necessary wood, they would certainly have done no more.  And no one,' continued Miss Morville, with considerable acumen, 'could have placed the least reliance on their continued performance of such household tasks, for, you know, if they had been engaged in philosophical discussion they would have forgotten all about them.'
     'I conclude,' said Gervase, a good deal amused, 'that your Mama is of a practical disposition?'
     'Oh, no!' replied Miss Morville serenely.  'That is why she did not wish to form one of the colony.  She has no turn for domestic duties: Mama is an Authoress.'
That sounds like the voice of experience to me!  It seems that the tension of opposites inherent in coordinating practical with more creative activities continues to pursue us down the ages.

Purchasing links for interested NZ readers:
Fishpond.co.nz
The Quiet Gentleman

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