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Author Topic: I love the Victorian era. So I decided to live in it.  (Read 943 times)
GCCC
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« on: September 10, 2015, 07:18:38 pm »

An essay on living (almost) completely in the Victorian era in the modern age.

http://www.vox.com/2015/9/9/9275611/victorian-era-life

Excerpted from the article:

"My husband and I study history, specifically the late Victorian era of the 1880s and '90s. Our methods are quite different from those of academics. Everything in our daily life is connected to our period of study, from the technologies we use to the ways we interact with the world.

Five years ago we bought a house built in 1888 in Port Townsend, Washington State — a town that prides itself on being a Victorian seaport. When we moved in, there was an electric fridge in the kitchen:  We sold that as soon as we could. Now we have a period-appropriate icebox that we stock with block ice. Every evening, and sometimes twice a day during summer, I empty the melt water from the drip tray beneath its base...

...The process didn't happen all at once. It's not as though someone suddenly dropped us into a ready-furnished Victorian existence one day — that sort of thing only happens in fairy tales and Hollywood. We had to work hard for our dreams. The life we now enjoy came bit by bit, through gifts we gave each other. The greatest gift we give each other is mutual support in moving forward with our dreams...

...We're devoted to getting our own insights and perspectives on the era, not just parroting stereotypes that 'everyone knows.' The late Victorian era was an incredibly dynamic time, with so many new and extraordinary inventions it seemed anything was possible. Interacting with tangible items from that time helps us connect with and share that optimism. They help us understand the culture that created them — a culture that believed in engineering durable, beautiful items that could be repaired by their users. Constantly using them helps us comprehend their context. Absorbing the lessons our artifacts teach us shapes our worldview. They are our teachers. Seeing their beauty every day elevates and inspires us, as it did their original owners..."





The author's website, with blogs and articles on various aspects of their life, is here:  http://www.thisvictorianlife.com/
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GCCC
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« Reply #1 on: September 10, 2015, 08:04:32 pm »

Whoa...controversy!

Commentary on the site from which this article came to my attention has been, by-and-large, negative, especially from people who have read her books. The words "pompous", "condescending", and "rude" show up a lot.

This article from Slate provides an encapsulation of what is either naive or outright wrong:  http://www.slate.com/articles/life/history/2015/09/vox_victorians_sarah_a_chrisman_s_essay_on_living_like_a_victorian_is_preposterous.html

Excerpted from the article:

"...Chrisman may well have a better sense than you or I about how it feels to wear such a skirt. But donning antique clothing doesn’t transport the wearer to times past—it doesn’t even necessarily give you a great sense of what it was like to wear such clothes in the 1880s. Wearing a corset as an adult, out of choice, as Chrisman does, will come with a particular set of physical sensations. Wearing a corset from girlhood on; being told you must wear a corset or you won’t be womanly; or wearing a corset while you have tuberculosis—all of these Victorian relationships to this garment were particular to their time... The re-creation of the physical feeling of living in the late 19th century can only ever be a partial one...

...Even if an 1890s version of Chrisman, or of her husband, would have lived a comfortable and privileged life, they could not have lived it in a vacuum, as the 2010s Chrismans are attempting to do. The social world around them would have demanded that they take some kind of a stance on the mores and ideologies dominant at the time. Would you accept the fact that immigrant children in your town worked in a factory, or protest against it? If you’re female, would you drop your education when your family thought you’d had enough? These are choices that the sealed world of the Chrismans’ re-enactment doesn’t demand of them...

...an unfair characterization of professional historians, who generally acknowledge the impossibility of total objectivity while trying hard to be as clear-minded and fair as possible. It also betrays a hopelessly naive understanding of the historical record, which is, itself, incomplete and 'twisted' by the agendas of those who have produced, saved, and recirculated its texts. The primary sources the Chrismans choose to read made it to the present day because they held some kind of value for the intervening generations. The couple finds its period magazines on Google Books, that redoubtable Victorian technology. It seems not to have crossed their minds that a series of human decisions resulted in the digitization of those magazines and not others, and that those decisions are themselves a type of commentary..."

Links to additional commentary are provided.
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Hez
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« Reply #2 on: September 11, 2015, 05:52:40 am »

I have seen cases where reenactors redefine how a tool was used by discovering that the tool didn't work when used "correctly" and I do see a value in living with the technology to understand it.  (If you can find any of BBC's "the Victorian Garden/Kitchen/House/Farm Series' they are excellent.)  

I also agree that getting harassed is uncomfortable and shouldn't happen.  Her web page states "We live in a world that can be terribly hostile to difference of any sort." but I would argue that the Victorian world they prefer was far less accepting of different lifestyles than the modern world.

It would be interesting to know what the balance of modern to Victorian they are able to contrive.  For example they use lanterns for lighting and a gas parlour stove for heat but don't mention if they are able to cook by gas or wood heat or what their plumbing arrangements are.  It's  a rather fascinating idea but I'll stick with my central heating and a hot tap.
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Captain Lyerly
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« Reply #3 on: September 11, 2015, 02:57:23 pm »

As Hez points out, there are legitimate discoveries to be made on the spectrum of reenacting-to-living history.  The less animosity that is promoted by either side, the better off they will all be.

Some of the problems inherent in such an... experience? (it's not an experiment...) as this are pointed out by Slate and others.  The serious problems I see come from the implications or outright claims - not necessarily from this particular article - that "We have the One True Vision of how life in/at X was lived", rather than "we are working on figuring out certain aspects of living in/at X".

The various "reality" shows of a few years back were particularly guilty of this.  Because they were shows that wanted audience share and advertising income first and foremost, they had to introduce farcical restrictions, deadlines, and goals, making it more of a game show than a costume drama.  I would argue that Downtown Abbey was far more accurate at depicting life in the then-and-there than, say, "Prairie House".

As long as she enjoys whatever level of verisimilitude they are willing to deal with, great.  If she wishes to talk about it, fine.  If she makes exaggerated claims of accuracy, then people criticize those claims, that is fine too.



Cheers!

Chas.
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GCCC
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« Reply #4 on: September 12, 2015, 05:36:01 am »

...The various "reality" shows of a few years back were particularly guilty of this.  Because they were shows that wanted audience share and advertising income first and foremost, they had to introduce farcical restrictions, deadlines, and goals, making it more of a game show than a costume drama.  I would argue that Downtown Abbey was far more accurate at depicting life in the then-and-there than, say, "Prairie House"...

Oh, I know! We were howling with laughter and derision during the train wreck that was "Texas Ranch House"...

I have seen cases where re-enactors redefine how a tool was used by discovering that the tool didn't work when used "correctly" and I do see a value in living with the technology to understand it.  (If you can find any of BBC's "the Victorian Garden/Kitchen/House/Farm Series' they are excellent.)

I quite agree; sometimes the only way to truly understand an artifact is to use it. We learn much through practical use of previous technologies.

...I also agree that getting harassed is uncomfortable and shouldn't happen.  Her web page states "We live in a world that can be terribly hostile to difference of any sort." but I would argue that the Victorian world they prefer was far less accepting of different lifestyles than the modern world...

Agreed. However, reading comments from people who have read Chrisman's books, including some incident where she is rude to a bus driver, make me wonder how much of this harassment is from their behavior rather than how they look.

...It would be interesting to know what the balance of modern to Victorian they are able to contrive.  For example they use lanterns for lighting and a gas parlour stove for heat but don't mention if they are able to cook by gas or wood heat or what their plumbing arrangements are.  It's  a rather fascinating idea but I'll stick with my central heating and a hot tap.

Yes, it would be interesting to know. For example, if they have to leave the house for whatever their day jobs are, or for a medical emergency, and it's raining heavily or snowing, do they still go out on their bicycles? I suspect there is at least some form of motorized vehicle in their garage for such contingencies. I also find her claim that neither one of them has ever owned a cellphone highly suspect, especially with her being a published author. We also know that they must have internet somewhere in the house, otherwise there would be no blog. In short, I (and others) suspect there is more "cheating" going on than Chrisman would like us to believe.

...Some of the problems inherent in such an... experience? (it's not an experiment...) as this are pointed out by Slate and others.  The serious problems I see come from the implications or outright claims - not necessarily from this particular article - that "We have the One True Vision of how life in/at X was lived", rather than "we are working on figuring out certain aspects of living in/at X"...

Agreed.
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Hez
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« Reply #5 on: September 12, 2015, 06:02:45 am »

No cell phone doesn't mean no phone and they clearly have internet.  She also refers to trucking their bikes to a starting point for a days ride.
Quote
We got up early and trucked our highwheels out to Sequim after a quick breakfast.  (Even in the 1880s, it was already common to move bikes and trikes around via other forms of transportation.) 

As I said more power to them for living the way they want to but I am curious about what balance they strike.
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GCCC
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« Reply #6 on: September 12, 2015, 06:09:57 am »

No cell phone doesn't mean no phone and they clearly have internet.  She also refers to trucking their bikes to a starting point for a days ride.
Quote
We got up early and trucked our highwheels out to Sequim after a quick breakfast.  (Even in the 1880s, it was already common to move bikes and trikes around via other forms of transportation.) 

As I said more power to them for living the way they want to but I am curious about what balance they strike.

Ah, thanks! I've slept since I read the article, and had forgotten that bit.

And I agree with you; it takes some chutzpah to make an attempt such as theirs.
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Prof Marvel
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« Reply #7 on: September 12, 2015, 08:54:16 am »

An interesting read, to say the least.
Browsing their website, one can find hyperbole and .... well .... cheating without much effort at all.

eg: on the frontice page they claim

"Sarah wears a corset 24/7, 365 days a year. "  ... really? 24/7 ? in the bath? in bed?

on light and heat page we find:
"Gas parlor heater, circa 1890's.
This Grand model #114 was made by the Cleveland Cooperative Stove Company in the 1890's. 
It originally burned coal gas, but has been converted to burn propane. 
Unlike many modern propane stoves which use ceramic faux logs as flame spreaders, our lovely stove uses faux coals"

so it is simulated - close, but simulated

but at least they use 3 correct Tesla electric bulbs...

My point being, if one is to claim absolute ironboot historical correctness, then one had better adhere to it or suffer criticism.

Regarding food - I do hope she can recognize rye smut and avoid the consequences, and whilst she is foraging one hopes she can tell the difference between the Wild Carrot and Wild Hemlock - a mistake that annually kills a few hikers or canoeists. And I hope they realize that one of the vectors for polio was via contaminated icebox ice....

One also wonders what other compromises are made? Where and how do they get their supplies? Are they delivered by horsewagon or UPS truck?

at what point they will give in - will it be modern medicine when pneumonia, dysentery,  or TB strikes? Are they getting vaccines, Tetanus shots, etc ?

will they call an ambulance if one breaks a leg or skewers themselves or burns themselves ? Will they submit to Xrays and anti-biotics?

Its all beer and skittles until somebody dies.

yhs
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« Reply #8 on: September 12, 2015, 10:37:37 am »

I believe we can call this a mayor anachromism.
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Hez
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« Reply #9 on: September 12, 2015, 08:00:30 pm »

Thank you Prof Marvel for helping me crystallize what was bothering me.   I have no issue with them keeping some modern elements but I do with the claim to be living the authentic life while using modern tech.
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Prof Marvel
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« Reply #10 on: September 12, 2015, 10:49:26 pm »

YW my Good Hez.

On the one hand, I applaud that they are living as they wish. Good For Them!

On the Other Hand,  Their " amateur attempts at professional Living History" have been challenged in so many places they have pretty much lost credibility, and the utter chutzpah  ( as our good GCCC points out ) of claiming authenticity is sheer ego.   

I suppose that is what I really object to. That and forcing me to end my sentence with a proposition preposition .

As Many Experts point out, Ego seems to be the downfall of so many.

Warning: righteous indignation rant begins:
Spoiler (click to show/hide)

yhs
prof (grumpy) marvel
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Hez
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« Reply #11 on: September 12, 2015, 10:58:11 pm »

The native situation you speak of is indeed atrocious. 

(PS the gentleman of the blog works in a bicycle shoo)
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pakled
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« Reply #12 on: September 13, 2015, 04:15:01 am »

I remember a show called 1900 house (or somesuch, it was 15 years) where they tried living in the Last years of the victorian era. All I remember was the poor lady breaking into tears trying to do all the extra work needed to 'function.'

Supposedly, Civil War (ours, not the English one...Wink they dress up with as accurate a ensemble as they can, going for something called a 'period rush.' So, fora brief moment, I suppose they could
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Hez
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« Reply #13 on: September 13, 2015, 05:18:20 am »

BBC did Manor House (I think that was the name) about a Victorian stately home complete with servants.  It was interesting to hear the difference in attitude between the master and the servants.  He felt that it was satisfying for everyone to know the place and that the servants were happy in their work.  The servants couldn't stand him and couldn't wait for the show to end and set them free.
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James Harrison
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« Reply #14 on: September 13, 2015, 10:54:29 am »

I'm decidedly split by this. 

On the one hand I have to give them credit for the lengths they seem to have gone to, to try to live in the Victorian era. 

On the other... I agree with the charge of their being so Victorian they have internet, but that has been gone over already.  I was going to say, well hold on what about the Amish then, but I see Prof. Marvel has brought that up (great minds think alike, eh?).  I might also point out that others have done exactly the same (the artists McDermott and McGough come to mind here), so they're not exactly unique.  I'm also suspicious about the timing of suddenly deeming their activites newsworthy... aah, yes, there we go.  She has two books on the shelves and a thirdly shortly to be released... attention seeking, anyone?

Now the debate to be had here is, as I see it, is it possible in 2015 to completely shut oneself off from the modern world and live as a Victorian? - no (wo)man is an island and inevitably though some may try to get as close to the 1800s as they can, the modern world will (must?) barge in and make its presence felt at certain times and circumstances. 

I remember a show called 1900 house (or somesuch, it was 15 years) where they tried living in the Last years of the victorian era. All I remember was the poor lady breaking into tears trying to do all the extra work needed to 'function.'
   

I think this might be it?  Certainly worth viewing. 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KaCxQ1ArY3w   
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« Reply #15 on: September 13, 2015, 01:21:09 pm »

I've done a fair bit of medieval re-enactment. The longest I've done it at any one time is eight days, on three occasions. But there's nothing like living without modern conveniences to teach you the following:
  • Always, always keep some hot water on the go. You never know when you'll need it, and you don't appreciate how often you'll need it until you've had to boil it all up on a wood fire.
  • The automatic washing machine is one of the best inventions ever.
  • Pretty much everything needs to be planned in advance. You can't cook unless you have fuel. If you don't boil your water in advance, you have to wash in cold.
  • Everything takes a long time. Except bread, which will burn in minutes if you're not careful. This means that you have to allow enough time to complete all the tasks (see above about planning in advance). Lack of automation means that you can't have the washing running while you do the baking.
  • Rain is less fun without waterproofs. And rain-soaked wool can be really, really heavy. And it smells of wet wool.
  • Pattens keep your feet warm as well as dry, if you just have thin leather soles.
  • Candlelight is not romantic. It is too dim and flickery to be really useful unless you have a lot of candles, so you might as well go to bed.
  • You should be really, really grateful to be born in the 21st century, where household chores can be done at the flick of a switch; you can read until midnight if you want to (without moving to Iceland), and medicine actually works the majority of the time.

When we got home, we used to play with the light switches, just because we could...

I think many people have a romanticised view of the past, as a simpler, happier time. Anyone who says they'd like to live in the past is probably thinking that they'd be in the top section of society - well-off merchant at least, and more probably gentry or nobility equivalent. I can't imagine anyone thinking the life of a match-factory worker (with attendant risk of phossy jaw and death) would be preferable to, say, shelf-stacking in a supermarket, or any one of today's other minimum-wage jobs. They are also, presumably, not aware of the rate of infant mortality, or the prevailing attitude to health and safety at work, or what was likely to happen to you - and your family - if you lost your job, or got injured at work.

When you're not one of the posh bods, pre-twentieth-century living is hard work. Everything takes so long that you just don't have the time or the energy for much in the way of recreation. And, as has been pointed out above, many of today's biggest advantages - antibiotics, anaesthetic, good hygiene - only really come to the fore when disaster strikes, or when you realise that modern tech is quietly working away in the background to prevent disasters.

Hooray for the twenty-first century. Hooray for technology, for modern medicine, for progress. All of that means that even if you want to live in your little romanticised rose-coloured-spectacled fairy tale of the past, you can. Safely. Because when you fall, the modern world will be there to pick you up and get you back on your feet.
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GCCC
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« Reply #16 on: September 13, 2015, 03:05:21 pm »

Hear, hear!
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