The Past: Nostalgia or Reality?

Readers and writers often spend many hours living in the past or some kind of alternate reality.  If we love historical romances, we immerse ourselves in the worlds of decades, or even centuries gone by.  Even in contemporary stories – romance, mystery, or paranormal – the tales are not about the day-to-day lives we live in the 21st century.  Many of us read for the escapism of a fictional character’s reality.  

Downtown A, npr site - CopyDownton Abbey’s (photo from npr.org) fourth season has begun (what a thrill!) and I thought how appropriate Lady Grantham’s words were for this season of change.  The year is 1922, and the Duchess says, “Am I the only one in this family who lives in the 20th century!”  A famous opera singer is attending an extravagant house party at Downton, and the family and staff discuss the appropriate place for the guest to have dinner.  Certainly not with the family – she’s a working artist!  But she’s too elevated in status to eat with the servants. 

What a dilemma!

One of the reasons I enjoy this series is because I like contemplating how I would fit into such a society and what role I would play.  I like analyzing how the Great War changed every notion of societal expectation, every nuance of social status or lack of, every idea of the roles of men and women, both in the aristocracy and the working class. war poets

Historians recognize the time between the wars as a great transitional period in world history.  World War I, of course, was the initial impetus. In college I took a course called “The War Poets,” focusing on those disillusioned poets who primarily wrote between 1914 and 1945, many of which were expatriates from the England and the States to Paris.  These poets largely wrote nothing but their pieces about war’s devastation and consequences.

ServantsThe series reveals the contrast of the old way of living versus the newer 20th century enlightenment.  For example, Lady Grantham’s maid unbuttons her gloves.  I remember a time when cuff links were worn by men and women alike, and although it’s tricky, I was able to insert the links into my cuffs without assistance.  No lady’s maid for me!  

We single women even knew how to zipper up our dresses without help, bottom to mid-waist, mid-waist to top, easy peasy. The lady’s maid even laid her ladyship’s nightgown over a chair near the fire, presumably to warm the garment before bed.  What creature comfort! 

Countless minor personal acts are performed by the servants for the aristocracy, from opening a door (a habit that lingers in the opening of car doors by men for women, although that is quickly fading) to holding serving platters for those dining so they can choose their portions.  Presumably their wrists are too weak to pass the heavy bowls and dishes around the table.  

Without today’s modern conveniences, the staff work their arses off to provide for their aristocratic families.  And they are proud to do it, for it’s a noble tradition!  Mrs. Pattmore, the cook, is suspicious of the new mixer and comments that soon they’ll all be obsolete if a machine can do the mixing and beating.  Little did she know!

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Part of me is fascinated and delighted by this indulgent way of life, probably why I enjoy reading historical romance so much.  But part of me is horrified that people would want and/or expect others to perform such intimate acts for them as dressing, drawing a bath, and combing the hair, although I do enjoy having my husband polish my shoes! In Ancient Egypt servants even brushed their masters’ teeth and wiped their bums.  Ewww!

I like my creature comforts.  A crock pot is one of life’s great blessings, life without a microwave is not worth living, and while I could do without my dishwasher and dryer, I would hate scrubbing my clothing on a board or giving up my electric toothbrush.

Still, I enjoy the mystique and mystery, the ease and posh living of earlier centuries for the upper class.  I enjoy being taken away for a few hours in reading about times and places not my own.  While my brain acknowledges that honest work is essential for true happiness, I enjoy the occasional pampering.

hitmansheart600x900My second novella in the Hitman Series is on pre-order at Amazon http://amzn.to/1dDnfqX.  One lucky commenter will receive a free e-book when the title releases on January 28.

What about you?  Think of yourself at the time you consider your prime of life (mine would be from my mid-thirties to my late forties).  If you could live your prime in another time and/or place, which one would you choose?  Do you enjoy your me-time?  What’s your favorite form of pampering? What makes your modern life easy?  

Today I bought a new lavender-chamomile bubble bath and plan to take advantage of a nice hot bath.  I just hope I don’t drop my Kindle in the water! 

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Comments

34 Comments

  • Helen says:

    Is he coming to visit me and this heat

    Have Fun
    Helen

  • Jane says:

    Hello Jo,
    I just watched TNT’s “Mob City” and I thought it would have been interesting live in LA during the 1940s among the Hollywood glamor and gangsters. Technology has definitely made modern life easy, but it also means we’re plugged in all the time and seems like we’re always on call. I pamper myself with mani/pedis.

    • Jo Robertson says:

      Oh, that’s a good era, Jane. All the amenities of a modern world without the distractions, and a very intriguing time period, as you say. There was so much corruption in LA during that time period. It’d be a great setting for a story, although a number of mainstream writers have used that time period.

      How was MOB CITY? I haven’t seen that one but I’ve been curious.

      Love my pedicures! Although now they’re more like a pediatrist’s visit LOL.

  • Helen says:

    Jo

    I have to agree with you about reading taking me everywhere and I have learn’t a lot thru reading and I would love to visit the Regency period to be waited on like that but I am not sure wheather I caould take too much of it I am rather independent 🙂 and I do not have a dryer or dishwasher but I also love my crockpot (although at the moment here it is very much salad weather) and my microwave. I must pre order this book as I really enjoyed the The Hitman

    Have Fun
    Helen

    • Jo Robertson says:

      Thanks, Helen, I’m glad you enjoyed “The Hitman’s Holiday.”

      You strike me as a real pioneer kind of woman, Helen. I imagine you do lots of things for yourself rather than rely on modern conveniences. I really like hand washing my dishes, especially since there are only the two of us now. But when the grands visit and use a lot of dishes and glasses, I may run a load of the dishwasher.

      There’s something very soothing for me about doing those old-fashioned things like washing dishes and hanging laundry on the line. Reminds me of my mother, I suppose.

  • Jo, what a fun piece. I really do have to catch up on Downton Abbey, although I think a great artist cut through class barriers anyway. The opera singer would be an honored guest at an aristocratic banquet, as far as I can work out. Speaking of people wiping bottoms – that went on at least till Louis XIV’s time. Charles II definitely had a groom of the stool – and we’re not talking about a backless chair here, guys. It was actually a very coveted role, ewww, because it gave you access to the king at a very intimate level. Hmm, think I’d rather be the groom of the wine cellar!

    • Jo Robertson says:

      LOL, what great information, Anna. I had no idea that bathroom practice continued into British history.

      In the series they used a real-life opera singer (I forget her name) whose presence on the set was a real treat for the actors.

      I guess the lingering effects of such personal grooming are in getting a massage or pedicure. Those are rather intimate activities that we don’t balk at today.

  • flchen1 says:

    As a dancer, I think my prime was a couple decades ago 😉 As a reader, it’s any time! I’m not sure about what other time I’d like to spend time… I’m spoiled by the time we’re in 😉

    Looking forward to The Hitman’s Heart–me-time is often reading time! 😀

    • Jo Robertson says:

      Thank, Fedora. “The Hitman’s Heart” is actually a longer novella (long for me at any rate). By 18,000 words the first story was finished, but the second phase of Logan’s journey took nearly 25,000 words to tell. You know how these characters are!

      Ah, a dancer, or any athlete for that matter, tends to lose her prime earlier, don’t they?

      We’re never too prime-less to be heavy readers, right?

    • Jo Robertson says:

      Thanks, Fedora. “The Hitman’s Heart” is actually a longer novella (long for me at any rate). By 18,000 words the first story was finished, but the second phase of Logan’s journey took nearly 25,000 words to tell. You know how these characters are!

      Ah, a dancer, or any athlete for that matter, tends to lose her prime earlier, don’t they?

      We’re never too prime-less to be heavy readers, right?

  • Patty L. says:

    I loved my mid 20’s. My kids were little but becoming self sufficient. I actually made time for myself. I took bubble baths at least three times a week. Now I work crazy hours to pay for college and jump in and out of the shower as a necessity. I love having my hair done and if had to let it go to its natural gray I would be heartbroken.

    • Jo Robertson says:

      I know what you mean about the hair thing, Patty. I promised myself I wouldn’t be one of those little old ladies who color their hair black when they’re in their seventies.

      My hair is naturally quite dark, but I can’t seem to let it go gray, or likely white by now! My children won’t let me.

      And I do enjoy having it played with every 3 weeks. It’s a real treat.

    • Jo Robertson says:

      I always swore that I’d never be one of those little old ladies with black hair into their 70’s, but now I can’t brave the growing out of gray (most likely white) hair now, either, Patty.

      It’s a real treat to visit the hairdresser every 3 weeks!

  • Shannon says:

    My favorite indulgence is a long hot shower. I have friends who live in drought areas in the southeast who cannot do that any longer.

    I think the thing about modern life that I hate and love is the connectedness. I can remember when letters were the way you communicated when a long ways away or overseas. The telephone was once really expensive, but the price on that went down. Still, I debated a long time whether to call my mom after an earthquake in Cairo; all my friends went to the Marriott to do so (and to have cheesecake to recover). She was grateful I did when the phone calls started coming in that evening whether I was okay. When my Mom was sick, it was so great to get a text, to send a text, to have a phone conversation, to email friends back home, and to get on blogs to see people’s normal lives did not revolve around doctors and bodily processes.

    As to a time to visit, I really would like to go to Georgian time era for like a month as a rich woman with servants in London, just long enough that deprivation would equal the reward of seeing lots of things. The early Georgian period was a ferment of intellectual change; by the time of the Regency, war with France shifted the focus and after the war, social change began in earnest. I think I would be horribly frustrated in that I wouldn’t see the intellectual and political turmoil because I was a woman.

    • Jo Robertson says:

      Great choice, Shannon. I wouldn’t have thought of the Georgian Period, but I like your reasons for wanting to visit. Like you, I’d want a brief visit to these time periods. I’m all for time travel if I can come back!

      I think a lot of us have that love/hate relationship with modern technology, don’t you? Now that I finally got a smart phone and can text my children and grandchildren easily, I love the connection. But I’m also aware of how the nuance of language is lost in a text or email message.

  • Mozette says:

    What about you? Think of yourself at the time you consider your prime of life (mine would be from my mid-thirties to my late forties). If you could live your prime in another time and/or place, which one would you choose?

    My prime of life is right now… and in the now. I have found something I love to do and the technology is around to let me do it in the time I want to do it… and it’ll make me money; eventually.

    Do you enjoy your me-time? What’s your favorite form of pampering? What makes your modern life easy?

    Oh, yes! I love my me-time… and my ultimate form of it is to get in and write my sci-fi books… edit anything I’ve written or to jump into painting my pegs and pencils. Now, when I paint I put on some Santana, Red Hot Chili Peppers or U2 … all on vinyl and pump it up loud – damned the torpedoes… eerr… the neighbours!.. 😉

  • Debbie Oxier says:

    First of all, I have always wanted to check out the Old West. Maybe it’s because women could get away with wearing pants and carrying a gun! Lol! I love me-time. My favorite pampering is when I have time to myself and can read or write or go get a Starbucks, whatever I want. I enjoy the solitude once in awhile. My husband doesn’t always get it so sometimes I actually ask him to leave! He will go to his friend’s or go to Lowe’s for awhile!

    • Jo Robertson says:

      I so get this, Debbie. My husband golfs at least 3-4 times a week and I love how quiet and non-intrusive my house is during those times. I really take advantage of it.

      The Wild West would be a hoot! Pants and guns! I’m all over that for women. I’d like to be a sharpshooter.

  • Jo Robertson says:

    Good morning, everyone! There’s lots of frost on the ground here in northern Cal, but it should warm up nicely in the afternoon. It’s truly weird weather with a range of between 30-40 degrees from the low to the high.

    I think I need to write a post about Mother Nature getting pissed at the earth!

  • Susan Sey says:

    I don’t know, Jo. I’m attracted to those beautiful dresses of ages past, but I’m also darn attached to modern plumbing, dentistry, childbirth & voting rights. I guess if I had to pick another place & era, I might go with America in the roaring 20s. Flappers, alcohol, suffrage…Fun!

  • Jo Robertson says:

    Women were certainly flapping their wings during those times, Susan, wearing those flapper dresses, smoking (heavens!) and speaking out more and more.

    Love your list of things you couldn’t do without!

  • What a great post Jo! Love reflecting on the changes in history.

    As much as I love history, there are too many things I like about modern times to give up? But I’m with Susan, I think I might’ve thrived in the 1920’s or even the 1940’s without too much difficulty.

    Having said that, I recently got some plumbing work done on our house and now my washing machine functions efficiently!!! Yippee. Nothing better than starting the day off by throwing in a load of laundry and the machine washes it while I go write!!! 🙂 🙂

    • Jo Robertson says:

      Love when my laundry baskets are all empty! Boyd does his own laundry, but there still seems so much left: linen, rugs, cleaning rags, whites, lights, darks! Drives me nuts! I don’t know how I ever kept up with laundry when I was doing it for 9 people! I do know that my teenagers picked their once-worn jeans off the floor and fluffed the wrinkles out of them in the dryer when I wasn’t looking.

    • Jo Robertson says:

      It’s the bathroom conveniences I couldn’t give up, Suzanne. I’m totally spoiled by that modern convention. I could give up just about everything else, in fact, did when we went to the Middle East. Some of those bathrooms are pretty primitive!

  • bn100 says:

    technology makes it easier

  • Jo Robertson says:

    Technology makes the whole world easier, BN, but sometimes I find myself just wanting to shut it all off. I especially don’t want to learn anything NEW even though I’m afraid of being left behind LOL!

  • Jo Robertson says:

    It’s the bathroom conveniences I couldn’t give up, Suzanne. I’m totally spoiled by that modern convention. I could give up just about everything else, in fact, did when we went to the Middle East. Some of those bathrooms are pretty primitive!

  • Jo Robertson says:

    Just got back from watching a high school play that my granddaughter had the lead in. Generally, these affairs are pretty mediocre but the short play was written by seniors (music included) for elementary school kids and it was quite good. Nice to see youth engaged in healthy activities!

  • Jo Robertson says:

    Okay, I want to talk about Downtown Abbey some more. Is anyone else as ghastly in love with this series as I am?

    I thought after Matthew died in the car crash (I did NOT see that coming) that the show couldn’t get better. But give Julian Fellowes a challenge and he rises to the task. The first epi of this season was a two-hanky affair, moving but not sentimental.

    I lost it when the Duke read Matthew’s last letter to Mary when he thought he had all the time in the world to spend with her and the baby.

  • I finally succumbed to the lure of Downton Abbey and have watched all three seasons in the last couple of weeks. I will have to wait until season 4 comes out on DVD to watch it.

    Opera singers, even the most famous of them, walked a precarious line between the role of star and the role of servant. Lest we forget, Mozart was a servant in a royal household all of his life. Not until Beethoven did composers begin to break off that yoke. Less than a hundred years before Downton Abbey’s setting most opera singers were considered on the same level as courtesans and many of them did supplement their incomes as the mistresses of wealthy benefactors.

    Still, I think I would love to live during the Regency period in England. And frankly after a long day at Walmart it would be lovely to have someone wait on me hand and foot !!

    • Jo Robertson says:

      Thanks so much for weighing in on the information about opera singers of the time period. I didn’t know all of that! Very interesting, isn’t it?

      I’m so glad you’re enjoying Downton Abbey. It’s definitely one of my favorites!