I’ve been doing a lot of reading lately, primarily at night before I head to bed but also during some of my recent travels. It’s been mostly fiction and a wide variety at that. Some of the brain candy tends to be set in the mid 1800s, a time I’m fascinated by.
There are times when I’d love to live in London in the early to mid eighteenth century. The idea of being a young lady having a season and servants galore and country houses and town houses – and don’t forget the country parties with all your friends – and shopping on Bond Street and different dresses for different times of day, even just the fact that people wore gloves and there was no skin to skin touching (for the most part, ahem). The idea of a life like that intrigues me.
Then I think about the fact that those young ladies were in a rarefied circle, and I’m far more likely to be one of the servants than the lady being served. And London was incredibly polluted then with noxious smog, making breathing difficult. Those dresses, too… below the heavy and itchy fabrics were the garters and stays and corsets and more. I’m thinking that’s one of those things that sounds much better in my head than it does in reality.
Then there’s the fact that women weren’t permitted to do so many things we are today. Their fathers could barter them off for marriage. The slightest faux pas could result in very public and permanent shunning. Once married, their husbands had all the rights, and they had nothing. Society was very rigid with its structure and rules, with movement within classes very rare and women essentially not allowed to do anything outside the home – unless they were servants. I love the choices I have today. I love that I had a wonderful career for many years, that I chose my own husband, that I have the option of whether I want to work or stay home with my children – and my career choices go beyond governess, maid, or cook.
I like the freedom that I have today, and I cherish the decisions I am able to make, as romantic as another time may sound when I read about it from two hundred years in the future. I wonder if people will look back on our time in two hundred years and shudder about the privations we currently suffer.
I find it fascinating how different life is at various points in time. Even looking at 1815 versus 1825 versus 1850 is a very different time in terms of the morals and what women were allowed to do. Looking at other times, society hasn’t always progressed in a straight line from absolute rule and women, for example, being little more than slaves to today where individual choice and freedom is paramount. Ancient Egypt allowed women to inherit and rule (see: Cleopatra, though she was far from the only one).
The middle ages also fascinate me, though the complete lack of sanity and medical expertise makes it a little less appealing. Using stale bread as plates – repeatedly – is also a bit of a turnoff, and let’s not forget that sugar was a rarity and chocolate not available.
Ancient Rome or Greece provide another potential era when I could live. They had such highly developed civilizations with knowledge paramount. And yes, they bathed frequently. The climates there are also a whole lot nicer than Chicago, especially since we’ve now had eight straight days of rain and our normal highs of 70 or so have been replaced by 50s.
Reading about Cleopatra in the eponymous book by Stacy Schiff brings these thoughts to the fore for me, as she details the “true” life of Cleopatra and her cunning, rather than focusing on her Hollywood created beauty and seduction. The picture she paints of Alexandria and Rome and more are powerful, though the stark picture of a determined Cleopatra – someone I wouldn’t want for a mother – makes it slightly less appealing.
If you could travel anywhere in time and live in another place, where would you go? What appeals to you about other times and places?
In the interest of full disclosure, I received a copy of the book “Cleopatra” as part of the From Left to Write book club for purposes of facilitating our discussion. As part of this book club, we write posts inspired by the book, as opposed to traditional book reviews. I received no compensation, and all opinions are my own, as always.