Thursday, July 23, 2009

The Victorian Ideal

How many times have we flipped through our history books and sighed, thinking how simpler things were "back then", wished we could go back in time, or wondered if we were born in the wrong era? I know I have been guilty of such musings many times. One of those time periods I find myself wandering back to is the Victorian Age. No, it was definitely not perfect (is there a perfect age?). Women were repressed, social status was suffocating, and people were forced to put on false personalities all in the name of "society". However, the romantic in me wonders what it would have been like to have been born to a middle to high class family, to parents who encouraged their children (sons and daughters alike) to pursue their passions and gifts. (Thankfully, my real upbringing did include parents who encouraged my sister and me to do just that.)

It was easier to become a writer back then. All I needed was a masculine pen name and an appointment with an editor. At least, that's how it's depicted in all those romantic films. Since we're idealizing here, I figured I'd run with the stereotypical image of the eager author sitting outside the editors office, manuscript clutched to her chest, hopeful look on her flawless features, ringlets of auburn hair peaking out from beneath her bonnet. Would I have traveled by boat and rail in those romantic days of travel? Across the pond to Europe? Perhaps I would have crossed paths with Oscar Wilde, seen one of his plays while the author was in the theatre house. Paris high society during this period seems lavish and garish and oh-so-delectable! I admit, I would have indulged, if only for a time.

Something in me, however, tells me that my true self would have eventually won out of countless dinner parties, play premieres and picnics in from of the Eiffel Tower. Even being born to a high society, Victorian Era family could not quell the urge I have to seek solitude, to work with my own hands, to get dirt under my fingernails and breathe fresh air. To feel the sun on my skin and my toes squelch through mud. It didn't for Beatrix Potter. I'm certain I would have been as enthralled with her "little books" during the hey-day of their publication as I am now. I am also certain that something inside me would have prompted me to take a leaf from her book and venture into the realm of making my own way in a time when women were expected to speak shyly, walk primly and hide behind the tux tails of their husbands.

Beatrix and I would have had much more in common than me and old Oscar. Not that I wouldn't have enjoyed the lavish indulgence he heaped upon his friends (to a fault), but I would have tired from society life. Perhaps I could live in both worlds, the shining City of Lights could be home to my publishing dreams and hair-brained schemes. The lost in time villages of the Lake District, however, would have been the home of my heart, my soul, my need to disengage from the hoopla and hubbub of the everyday.

Will I get that life, in the here and now, jet setting in Europe and recharging at the farm? I sure hope so. Until then, I'll live vicariously through my Victorian counterparts (and perhaps create an alter ego who can gallivant and romp alongside them as I daydream the drearies away :) And in the meantime, I'll feed my love for all things Idealized Victorian with a few good books both in Oscar's world and in that of Beatrix.

Happy travels,

AN: Both Wilde and Potter were born in the Victorian Era yet lived most of their adult lives in the Edwardian Era. In my happy world, I consider them Victorian. However, the historian in me would not allow me to post this without a post script...


  1. Jen, I love reading the works of Victorian women authors. It was often a difficult life for them. Louisa May Alcott is a perfect example. Jane Austen gave up much to become a writer. Three of my favorites are not so popular but are incrediable. There is Sherwood Bonner a Mississippi writer who was rumored to be Longfellows lover. Mary Noallies Murfree, a Tennessee writer who wrote as Charles Egbert Cradock and Emma Bell Miles, the Tennessee writer who drew artwork for Chattanooga's society to make money to live off of so she could write.Google these women and read fascinating stories of their efforts to write at the turn of the century! I enjoyed this post! :)

  2. It all sounds so beautiful in the way that it you describe it, but I can't picture myself living in a pre-feminist era. I'm not sure if this is beacause I lack imagination or I feel certain that someone with my rebelious nature would have probably have lived a breif and unhappy life in a sanitarium. And while I would not want to trade places with them, I do find it fascinating to read about the way the women of the Victorian era lived.

  3. Carol: thanks for the info on those amazing women. I can't wait to read all about them! Very glad you enjoyed this post.

    DG: Oh, I'm not so sure how I'd truly fare in such a chauvanistic society. I often joke with my husband that had I been born in the medieval ear (my personal favorite) I would have been condemned as a witch! As for Victorian England...I'm sure there would have been some speculation there too. Mothers would cross to the other side of the street when I passed by so their children wouldn't get to close to me. That sort of thing :)

  4. fascinating to consider these perspectives.. Ms. Potter, from what little I know really, seems 'soul-linked' to me somehow. A true independent woman, a writer, a soul set on fulfilling dreams.

    Lovely blog here.


  5. Thanks for the kind words, Shelby. I've been a Ms. Potter fan for years and I feel the same as you do in relation to her: a kindred soul. Have a wonderful Tuesday!


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