Category Archives: Pride & Precedence

Pride & Precedence: Book Clubbing

A continuing series by Persuasion’s Mary Musgrove

Buried in the country as we are, the only thing to do is READ. So dreary!

Here in Uppercross Village, the only “clubbing” to be had is “book clubbing.”  Or as Mrs. Brock calls it, The Uppercross Ladies’ Literary Guild.

She has the Guild part right. Guilds were medieval workhouses, were they not? And let me tell you, our Literary Guild is work.

For one thing, we never get enough copies of the book. So we either have to share, or we must listen as someone reads aloud that week’s selection. Let me tell you, this puts the duh in dull.

So there we sit, knitting lace or doing needlework or whatever, while the most boring reader drones on. I am then taken to task — usually by Mrs. Poole — for not bringing my work bag. As if I even own a work bag!

Of course I have not finished the book — who could?

One can never speak reasonably to a person like Mrs. Poole. “I prefer lace made in Paris,” I told her once, as nicely as I could. And then, for her benefit, I added,  “That’s a city in France.” Mrs. Poole refused to speak to me for the remainder of the meeting. 

When I do own the book, I must pretend to have read it. I mean, seriously. Who has time for reading? 

Bless me, the titles these ladies choose! Who would want to slog through all of The Castle of Entranto? I was told it was wonderfully exciting and tragically romantic. Well. To borrow one of your modern expressions, NOT. That first chapter was what the soldiers call heavy going. On his wedding day, a sickly young prince is crushed to death by a falling helmet. As if this would ever happen!

It is the same old story, and I am weary of it.  Those of us who are ill–as I very often am — are ignored or pushed aside. We are left to to die, like poor Prince Conrad, forsaken by uncaring friends and family.

But when I shared my disgust — for are not book clubs about honest opinions? — one of the members burst into tears and ran from the room. Apparently The Castle of Entranto is her favorite book. Can I help it if I did not like the first chapter?

And I ask you, weeping over something as paltry as a book? Tears ought to be reserved for financial crises — such as being unable to purchase a darling pink parasol or a much-needed pair of dancing slippers.

I trust that your book club meetings are more tolerable than mine.

Most cordially,

Mary Elliot Musgrove
Daughter of Sir Walter Elliot, Bart.
Future Mistress of Uppercross
Laura Hile (1)

Advertisements

Pride & Precedence: Make Do and Mend?

A continuing series by Persuasion’s Mary Musgrove

Of all the irksome tasks allotted to a lady — and there are many, believe you me! — needlework is the most unfair.

Oh, the hours I have spent embroidering elaborate designs on something useless, such as that set of cushions for our parish church. And to what purpose? So that someone’s hind end will be more comfortable while he or she listens to a sermon? Please.

I would rather be doing something productive.  Like paging through the latest fashion periodical. Or taking a nap.

Now that I am a mother, I am expected to help with the mending. Me, darning stockings! Making repairs to torn breeches! Replacing lost buttons and frayed cuffs! Heavens.

Who says I ought to be the one to mend? Yes, I am a mother and the lady of the house. Does this mean that I must work like a serf?

As an Elliot of Kellynch Hall, I well understand the importance of clothes. See here, I cannot go about announcing my exalted ancestry always. I have beautiful clothing for that.

Yes, exquisite garments are society’s Town Crier, calling forth the best places at dinner parties and respectful service in the village shops. Nothing says Well Born quite as effectively as spotlessly clean, stylish attire.

But young boys make “clean” impossible to maintain!  My poor nerves. My sons climb trees and scramble across stiles, and they engage in rough-and-tumble play with my husband’s dogs. If I keep the boys with me in the house, they are never still. They spill strawberry jam on themselves at breakfast, and later they open my writing desk and upset the ink pot.

Am I a serf?

Then too, my sons are continually growing. It’s like a joke of cosmic proportions. Once their wardrobe needs are met, overnight they must shoot up two inches in height. And do not speak to me about their too-tight shoes!

Charles merely laughs and says growing families are like this, as if torn and stained garments are a joke. It costs good money to hire a needlewoman — and we need a fleet of them!

Therefore, I must make do without a new gown this month — again. Because the Young Squire’s sons cannot go about in rags, it seems that I am forced to do so.

I trust that your needlework obligations are more tolerable than mine.

Most cordially,

Mary Elliot Musgrove
Daughter of Sir Walter Elliot, Bart.
Future Mistress of Uppercross
Laura Hile (1)

Pride & Precedence: Snow Woe

giovanniboldiniafternoonstroll-mm21

There is a song from your modern era called I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas. Seriously? Snow has become not my dream but my nightmare.

Granted, a dusting of snow would be charming at Christmastime—if it came and then went away. This year? Snow continues to fall and pile up. It’s like one of those annoying houseguests who will not go.

Our “White Christmas” became a “White New Year’s” and then a “White Epiphany.” If we stiil have snow on the ground at Candlemas, I will lose my mind.

The vulgar expression “Cabin Fever” describes the situation at Uppercross Cottage. We are housebound because of the snow, and let me tell you, it is Too Much.

trees-15For one thing, the cottage is always, always cold. Why not burn a forest of trees for heat? What are we saving them for? I know, posterity. Bless me, since the days of our courtship I’ve been told that the Musgrove wealth is found not in monetary assets but in land. Well then, we ought to plant acres of trees so that we can cut down what we need. Trees do nothing but stand there. Why not make them useful?

And then there is the smoke: from fires, from sputtering candles, and from cigars. I am continually coughing because my husband will not take his cigars out-of-doors as he ought. My father-in-law’s pipe? Insupportable! Smoke indoors is almost bad as the smell of damp wool, which is everywhere.

popula626We have the same dismal callers again and again, and Charles will invite them to stay. And then, of course, I must feed them. The ugly caps and wrappers they wear are painful to behold, not to mention their red noses and  chapped cheeks. Our conversations center around one thrilling subject: the weather.

Our darling boys are behaving like savages. They laugh and screech, and their footfalls pound along the hallways and up and down stairs until my head aches. The nurserymaid is no help. Her solution is to put them in the bath, allowing them to shout and splash water everywhere. Charles bundles them up and takes them to visit his parents at the Great House, but that is no better. The boys run wild there, while my in-laws discuss my shortcomings as a mother.

Next winter, I shall insist that Charles to take me to Bath. My father has a very fine house there; we would be in no one’s way. In Bath, no one minds the weather. There are card parties, concerts, and interesting people. Here we have the same musicians, the same dances, and the same people.

Thanks to “Old Man Winter” every one of our neighbors has a cold and sniffs—continually.  My poor nerves are worn to a frazzle. But do our neighbors care? They smile and wave and say, “Cheerio!” as if they are happy about the snow.

I’d like to give that Jack Frost a piece of my mind. And a good swift kick in the pants, too.

Most cordially,

Mary Elliot Musgrove
Daughter of Sir Walter Elliot
Future Mistress of Uppercross

New Release!
Sir Walter Elliot’s Marrying Well for Fun & Profit is now a Kindle e-book.
More about that tomorrow.

Mary’s “portrait” is Afternoon Stroll by Giovanni Boldini

Pride and Precedence: Springtime is “Fly Time”

A continuing series by Persuasion’s Mary Musgrove

giovanniboldiniafternoonstroll-mm21Everyone loves the spring–with longer days, a bit less rain, and warmer weather. But living as I do, only a short walk from the mansion of the squire, springtime is also “fly time.”

I was raised in a more civilized and genteel setting. Kellynch Hall is surrounded by ornamental gardens, not working farms. The stables are quite a distance away, and with good reason. Of course we had the occasional wandering fly, everyone does. But those were nothing like the flies we have here in Uppercross.

The building in which I now live used to be a farm house, for pity’s sake. Adding a veranda and French windows have supposedly made it into a cottage (according to my mother-in-law). But prettiness does not make up for location. Uppercross Cottage is a quarter-mile from the Great House, and yet it is only a stone’s throw from its stables. High walls and great gates are nothing to flies.

How I loathe dogs and horses!

Oh, I loathe dogs and horses

My husband’s dogs are to blame, along with my father-in-law’s horses and cows. But will either of them listen? They smile and tell me to keep the windows closed, as if the stifling warmth of summer were bearable.

A very good plan is to spend “fly time” in a civilized and fashionable place like Brighton. But when I suggest this, they only laugh. Charles would like to breed horses as a hobby. Therefore as the years pass, my misery will only increase.

So in our open windows come the flies–all types of flies: mosquitoes and stable flies, horse flies and even wasps. And then there is that bane of the summer evening, the cloud of midges.

None of Charles’ solutions have worked. Traps are useless, and his suggestion to wear light-colored clothing is laughable. What does a fly know about light or dark colors?  If Charles is right, I am done for when anyone dies, for I shall be obliged to wear black for months. But I believe most deaths occur in winter.

In a large mansion, the windows are above the flies.

In a proper house, that is to say a mansion, the windows are high above the flies. Not so in a cottage!

My solution is the only sensible one: move the location of the stablesAgain, Charles and his father only laugh.

At one time, I thought living close to a village would be exciting and social. But my sisters-in-law pass by my windows without a thought for me. I am left to the company of flies, it seems.

I carry a fly wisk during the spring and summer months. Sometimes I’d like to use it on people.

Most cordially,

Mary Elliot Musgrove
Daughter of Sir Walter Elliot, Bart.
Future Mistress of Uppercross

Laura Hile (1)

Mary’s “portrait” is Afternoon Stroll by Giovanni Boldini

Pride & Precedence: Like I Should be Musical?

A continuing series by Persuasion’s Mary Musgrove

giovanniboldiniafternoonstroll-mm21

Of all the demands made upon a lady, musical performance is the most unfair. Upon every occasion–say, a rainy afternoon, or before tea, and certainly with after-dinner guests–a lady is asked to play and sing.

I mean, really. Who says I must be musical? Simply because there is a pianoforte in the room, why does everyone look at me? Is it a requirement that every gentlewoman sing and play? Of course I can do both, for I am not a barbarian, but why should I?

My sisters-in-law are another matter. Upon the slightest pretext they plunk down on the piano stool and pound out the most dreadful music. They have very little talent and No Taste. But do their parents notice?

The poet Congreve says that music hath charms to soothe the savage breast. But he might change his mind if he heard my sisters-in-law!

Indivi536The idea that music helps one think creatively I reject. I am accomplished in many areas—most particularly in the area of supervision—but do I get credit? No, that is reserved for the pianist who entertains. It is most unfair.

I must say, I would be a better musician if only I had time to practice! But my time is all about duties–or should I say do-ties? Do this, do that, for everyone else! No one knows what I suffer.

I would very much like to play the harp, as it is such an elegant instrument.  But where is the money to purchase a harp and pay the music teacher? Bless me, it is spent for my husband’s hunting guns and horses!

1Indiv572But what can one expect, living buried in the  country as we do? There isn’t a teacher within twenty miles, whereas if we lived in London or Bath–

Besides, we have my sister Anne to play for us. I have no reason to exhaust myself by practicing scales and dances.

And so I soldier on, willingly providing topics of conversation, gratis, for all my friends and neighbors. It’s yet another evidence of good breeding, a thing my father calls noblesse oblige.

I trust that your musical obligations are more tolerable than mine.

Most cordially,

Mary Elliot Musgrove
Daughter of Sir Walter Elliot, Bart.
Future Mistress of Uppercross
Laura Hile (1)

Mary’s “portrait” is Afternoon Stroll by Giovanni Boldini

Pride and Precedence: In-house Insomnia

giovanniboldiniafternoonstroll-mm21

An advice column by Persuasion’s Mary Musgrove

If only I could sleep properly! But the demands of a household are myriad, and as you know I am the most responsible member of the family. Charles shrugs off our troubles, while I am kept awake thinking of solutions for future events.

It’s as if Thinking has become a profession. This is most unfair, for I am an Elliot and a gentlewoman. I should not have a profession! I should not have to think!

One of the London papers had an article about sleeplessness recently, and the suggestions offered were idiotic. If my husband were to read them, my life would be worse, not better. I sent that newspaper straight into the fire.

I share those so-called solutions here because I daresay you could use a laugh.

Exercise and stay active. I walk quite enough, thank you. My husband will never purchase a proper carriage if he thinks strolling about will improve my health. It won’t.

Can I help it if I am always thinking?

Can I help it if I am always thinking?

Avoid Naps. Bless me, if I do not nap, how will I stay awake at parties and assemblies? I am not about to become like one of the dowagers, snoozing open-mouthed on the sofa instead of dancing.

Abstain from caffeine and wine. What am I to offer callers instead of tea, pray? Warm milk? I must serve wine with dinner and strong coffee with dessert. The sort of people who read London newspapers obviously have no social life.

Moderate large meals, particularly those with meat. Look, when I am invited to dinner, of course I will eat meat and plenty of it. Meat is not only healthful but also expensive. I enjoy meat the most when my father-in-law is paying for it, thank you. Besides, hosts expect their guests to partake with enthusiasm. To abstain would be rude.

Get out of the bed when not sleeping. And go where? Sharing a bedchamber is not easy. My husband will thrash about in his sleep and pull off the blankets. He says I hog them, but I act only in self-defense.

Fill the bedchamber with pleasing floral aromas. As I said, I share with my husband. Not only do we not have flowers available year-round (for he refuses to put up a hothouse), but the scent in our room is far from floral!

Hide the bedroom clocks. I would like a clock to hide! Charles will not purchase one for our bedchamber or any other room; he says they are unnecessary for country life. We have a mournful longcase clock in the entrance hall and an elegant ormolu clock–a wedding gift from Father–in the drawing room. And that’s it.

Buy a good mattress. This is the only decent suggestion of the lot. Ours was supposedly restuffed or refluffed or reticked (or whatever one does to mattresses) when we were married five years ago. I say my in-laws lied. This mattress has been around since before William the Conqueror. Yes, it would be just the thing for a battle-hardened Saxon brute.

Alas, I must selflessly make do with what beauty sleep I can snatch. I trust you are able to do the same.

Most cordially,

Mary Elliot Musgrove
Daughter of Sir Walter Elliot, Bart.
Future Mistress of Uppercross

Laura Hile (1)

Mary’s “portrait” is Afternoon Stroll by Giovanni Boldini

Pride and Precedence: That pest, I. Dunno

GiovanniBoldiniAfternoonStroll-MM2

We have a new member of our household, although I have no idea how he came to join us.

His name is I. Dunno, and apparently he is responsible for much of what goes on behind my back.

I mean, really. I cannot be expected to notice what happens in the house every minute of the day!

Ask my eldest son any question:

  • Who broke the vase?
  • Who let the dogs out of the kennel?
  • Who left the toy soldiers on the dining room floor?

The culprit is always I. Dunno. This Mr. Dunno is a very busy person. And he is no gentleman, let me tell you. He is a nuisance and a bother, and the sooner he is gone, the happier I will be.

The servants have begun to speak of him as well, no doubt encouraged by Little Charles’ example. They use an additional surname: I. Dunno Ma’am.

I would like to give Mr. I. Dunno a piece of my mind!

I would like to give Mr. I. Dunno a piece of my mind!

It is most vexing.

My husband is no help. He says that Little Charles has an imaginary friend. And then he laughs, as if this were funny.

Is it any wonder that our youngest has begun to follow suit?  He has a entire troop of these imaginary nuisances.

Yes, he does, and I can name them: Howe Come and N. Uh and Was N. Tmee.

Sometimes I think parenting will be the death of me. Already I have lost my figure and my youthful bloom. And now, it seems, I am losing my sanity as well.

If imaginary friends come to call at your house, send them packing straightway!

Most cordially,

Mary Elliot Musgrove
Daughter of Sir Walter Elliot, Bart.
Future Mistress of Uppercross

Laura Hile (1)

Mary’s “portrait” is Afternoon Stroll by Giovanni Boldini