The other day at work one of my colleague’s mentioned that he would love to have lived during a past age when people worked and lived off the land. His dream is to farm and live a simple and wholesome life. A very unappealing thought to me, Little Miss City. It did make me think, however, about why I am grateful to live the modern 21st century life I do. I am a highly educated and emancipated woman of the world. I have a good job that I love [well, most of the time], I get to write interesting publications and my own books [or at least I try!], I have a family and a great husband, good health, amazing sisters and I even get to travel. What more could I want! Nothing that I can think of but I can think of things that I would not want.
I would not want to live in the Victorian era when all women were stereotyped as home makers; the person who cooked, cleaned and raised the children. Women had no independence once married and lost their right to their wages, property (excluding land) and any other assets they accumulated once married as well as their right to their own bodies, basically becoming the property of their husband. Divorce was taboo during the Victorian era and so many woman had to endure abusive relationships and infidelity by men was considered to be socially acceptable. Female writers during the Victorian era mainly wrote under pseudonyms as their writing was considered to be inferior to that of men – think of the Bronte sisters!
There is also disease and illness to consider. During the Victoria era people had no understanding of what caused disease and how it spread. Diseases that were alive and well and killed thousands during this period were cholera, typhoid, smallpox, scarlet fever and measles, mumps and rubella. Think about Mary Ingalls in the Little House series by Laura Ingalls Wilder who goes blind after contracting scarlet fever and Beth in Little Women who ultimately dies of this disease. Most of these diseases have been virtually eradicated in our modern society due to clean drinking water, sanitation and vaccinations. Of course, I am aware that outbreaks of these diseases, particularly cholera, do occur in developing countries from time to time.
Maybe Victorian London is going a bit to far back so let me think about the 1930’s and 1940’s when my Mother was a child. My Mother was the daughter of a dairy farmer and was born during World War II. Possibly this is the lifestyle my colleague had in mind. My Mother has told me many tales of her childhood over the years and she certainly had a very different upbringing from my own two boys.
There were positives; my Mother and her siblings had lots of freedom. They could roam the quiet country town streets without fear of being run over by a motor vehicle or abducted by a lunatic. They swam in the river without fear of biological contamination and played on the common. There were also a few downsides, of course. My Mother was the sixth of eight surviving children, four boys and four girls. There was no birth control in those days so woman just kept getting pregnant and having baby after baby. The houses were tiny and people lived very simple lives so the ten members of my Mother’s family lived in a three bedroomed house. There was no indoor sanitation. During the day the family used an outhouse that was across the yard and at night they used a chamber pot which was emptied out in the morning. Bathing was a tedious affair and involved boiling water on the stove to fill up the large metal tub that was used to wash the milk bottles. Sometimes, if you were unlucky, you would scratch your bottom on a piece of glass while washing. My Mother’s father did not believe in educating girls; at eleven years old my Mother won a scholarship to the local grammar school but her Father would not buy her the uniform so she couldn’t go. I am not sure what life was like for the males in the family but, from what I have heard, it sounded pretty hard. Getting up at 4am in the freezing cold to milk cows by hand. I know my Uncle’s hands used to crack and bleed during the winter months. My Mother’s Father died of appendicitis when she was sixteen years old. When was the last time you heard of anyone dying of appendicitis?
All in all, if I weight everything up, I am very happy that I live my life and I wouldn’t exchange it for any other time period. The morale of this story is “be careful what you wish for”.
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