Tag Archives: Advice

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)

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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: Like I Should be Musical?

A continuing series by Persuasion’s Mary Musgrove

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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 & Precedence: Short-term Memory Loss?

A continuing series by Persuasion’s Mary Musgrove

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Recently my mother-in-law has been talking about short-term memory loss. I think she read about it in one of those London periodicals. I say it’s nonsense.

True, she does forget things, like where she put her spectacles, or the names of our newest neighbors–who are upstarts and ought to be forgotten, I say! Or she cannot recall why she came into the drawing room.  Or the fact that she promised to serve a second helping of cake to her guests. (Visitors cannot help being hungry! It takes strength to be scrupulously polite in the presence of vulgarians! And it is very delicious cake. But then, no one attends to my wants.)

Her so-called memory loss changes with the situation. Let one of her daughters–or my husband–forget to do something for her, and she is all smiles. “I’ve forgotten all about it, my love,” she says. “It’s short-term memory loss, I suppose.”

People remember when they want to

People remember what they wish to, especially gossip

But anything wrong that I have done is remembered forever! Even innocent mistakes–like the time I forgot about the luncheon she hosted for all the neighbors. Or when I inquired after the measurement of her waist, in order to make her a present. Could I help it if Mrs. Poole overheard? And then spread it about that in all the house there was not a measuring tape found long enough? Mama Musgrove holds tightly to this particular memory, like grim death. I shall never live it down.

My own father will tell the same stories, especially at dinner parties.  And yet when I quiz him about his forgetfulness, he laughs. “The same stories to different groups of people, my dear,” he says. “It is a charming art among the well-born, otherwise known as making small talk. You ought to cultivate that.” Like my in-laws, he forgets none of my shortcomings.

Memory loss due to drink?

Memory loss due to drink? Another handy excuse, particularly among gentlemen.

My father-in-law remembers everything except our need for money. His grandsons are a delight, naturally, but he has no idea what it costs to raise children nowadays. After all, the allowance he made upon our marriage was for two, not four. He smiles and pats the boys on their heads and tells them that they are fine little men. Fine little men without proper hats and shoes–and living in a house in desperate need of redecoration!

So I say that memory loss is merely a convenient excuse trotted out by the middle-aged. In my experience, genuine forgetfulness is the province of the young: my husband, my sons, and my servants. But that is because they do not listen to a word I say.

I trust that you will fare better with your parents and in-laws. No one knows what I suffer at the hands of mine.

Most cordially,

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

Have you discovered Mercy’s Embrace?
Romance, adventure, and Jane Austen’s ‘Other Elizabeth’ are waiting …

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

Pride & Precedence: What Valentine?

An advice column by Persuasion’s own Mary Musgrove

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It’s beginning to look a lot like Valentine’s Day. Or so says a popular song from your era, adapted for the occasion. And this could very well be the case in the Metropolis, where the shops are filled with fashionable gifts for ladies.

But here in the village shop, we are lucky if there is a stack of flowered cards for sale. These are sent to sweethearts or to officers away in the war. But I say, why not to one’s devoted and hard-working wife?

And if one is spending money on a card, why not a box of chocolates instead? Candies are just as temporary, here today and gone tomorrow, and are much more enjoyable than words on paper.

And if one is buying chocolates–which are not good for the figure–why not lay out a bit more for a gold necklace or a gown? One should spend money on items that will last, I say. Or at least for something that the receiver will enjoy.

Try as I might, my husband ignores my hints and suggestions. I might as well be speaking to the wind.

But if the boys ask for something, he immediately complies: a pig-a-back ride or a tramp in the woods or a trip to his kennels to see the new puppies. Sometimes he will spend pennies for sweets.

A not so subtle hint

My husband is immune to subtle hints

I suppose I ought to prompt the boys to ask for a present for me. Ah, but Little Charles is as mulish as his father. And Walter is too young to properly say ‘gown’ (or ‘gloves’ or ‘spring bonnet’). I might have to settle for a new ‘hat.’ But that lisp of his is troubling. It would be very like Charles to give me a ‘cat’ instead.

No one knows what I suffer.

According to Charles, I have enough in my quarterly allowance for gowns and such, and should not be hinting for gifts. He has no idea. The prices here are a scandal! A lady cannot go about wearing rags!

Unless my husband wises up, I shall have to settle for a Valentine’s bouquet–gathered by him at the last desperate minute from the meadow. But only if the daffodils or bluebells bloom early. Last year it was a sad little clump of winter aconites.

But really, what good is a Valentine’s token if one’s neighbors do not see it? So I must go to the trouble of arranging a dinner party in order to display Charles’ bouquet, straining the household budget even more. It would be so much simpler if he would buy a proper gift in the first place.

To help my husband remember the holiday, I am teaching the boys this nursery poem:

The rose is red, the violet’s blue,
The honey’s sweet, and so are you.
Thou art my love and I am thine;
I drew thee to my Valentine:
The lot was cast and then I drew,
And Fortune said it shou’d be you.

I do not think much of Fortune’s choice for me, but one does what one can. I trust your Valentine will do better at gift-giving.

Most cordially,

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

Have you discovered Mercy’s Embrace?
Romance, adventure, and Jane Austen’s ‘Other Elizabeth’ are waiting …

Poem is from Gammer Gurton’s Garland (1784)
Mary’s “portrait” is Afternoon Stroll by Giovanni Boldini

Pride & Precedence: Those Wretched Resolutions!

An advice column by Persuasion’s own Mary Musgrove

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The Vicar is at it again–and my jovial father-in-law and most of the families in our circle. They all say that the New Year should bring Resolutions. And of course they have plenty of suggestions–not only for themselves but also for me.

As if I, an Elliot of Kellynch Hall, need to alter what I do!

I am sick to death of resolutions–and it isn’t even the New Year! Here are my thoughts:

There really is no point. Let’s be honest. At least one resolution is broken as soon as dessert is handed round! Why subject yourself to guilt and shame? Mrs. Poole, for instance, announces hers to everyone–laughing, if you can believe it. I daresay in the coming year she would like to lose a stone, but everyone knows she will end up gaining twice that.

Gents-4True resolutions are serious and silent. What if, for example, one intends to skim a few pounds from the housekeeping money in order to pay for a new gown? Should I be announcing that at Mrs. Poole’s dinner table?  But no, tonight her guests will trot out the same dreary ideas.

Fitness? Seriously?  It is bad enough that I must walk up and down the stairs, and occasionally walk into the village. I need a carriage, not more opportunities to exercise.

Become better organized. When everyone else in my house decides to be organized, so will I.

Declutter?  Look, there is no need to get rid of possessions. I need a larger home–the Uppercross mansion! Why should I “sort through” my clothes and shoes and hats? I sacrifice quite enough already. And besides, Charles has no intention of “lessening” his collection of hunting guns.

Sleep more. Until my staff and family members do everything correctly on their own, they will need me to be up and about to direct them. No one knows what I suffer.

1Leisu642Travel more.  I have been telling Charles this for years, but will he listen?

Have more fun? Fun requires money, as everyone knows. And the proper gowns and shoes and hats.

Pay off debt? That’s a laugh. Debt reduction will not happen until our income is larger.  Yet Charles’ father continues on in excellent health.

And so today, while everyone else is spending their “Christmas cash” and gift money, I remain at home, obliged to come up with a list of wretched resolutions–that I have no intention of keeping.

Most cordially,

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

Have you discovered Mercy’s Embrace?
Romance, adventure, and Admiral Patrick McGillvary are waiting …

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

Pride and Precedence: “You-do-it” Yuletide

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A continuing series by Persuasion’s Mary Musgrove

Oh, the hurry-scurry of Christmas! As usual, everything is left for me to oversee. We never have enough hired help, and during this busy season–which everyone says is so festive and bright–I am frazzled and worn to the bone.

I find it amazing how, when there is much to be done, illness spreads like wildfire. Last Christmas Eve, for instance, my housekeeper and the maid-of-all-work took to their beds with influenza. Never mind that I myself am often unwell. I heroically hauled myself from bed in order to direct the household. It was  most unfair!

Truly, I pity The Little Red Hen. For of course we must entertain, and of course no one wishes to help. “Not I,” they all say (more or less), when asked to do an extra task. As if the cook and the maids were not being paid good money to do work! No one understands how much is at stake when one entertains. I do not do so for my own amusement!

For a party is an invitation for critique. Everything about my home–the efficiency of my staff, the quality (and quantity!) of the food, even how well the brass is polished–will be scrutinized by my guests. “The young squire’s wife is a slacker.” I can hear the whispers now.

Mistletoe and money? This is more like it!

Mistletoe AND money? Wonderful!

So it is I who send out the little men to gather the Christmas holly, the rosemary, the bay, and the mistletoe. And since no one else has a particle of artistic taste, it is I who must direct the placement of each sprig. I oversee the hanging of the mistletoe with regret, for truly there is no one in Uppercross worth kissing!

Now Christmas is a religious holiday, and yet everyone expects a gift on St. Stephen’s. And not just any gift, but one in keeping with our family’s stature. And who must procure these gifts? Not my husband, who sits by the fire with a whittling knife, cheerfully constructing who-knows-what with the boys.

It is I who must venture out into the village to shop. Oh, the crowds! And the lack of selection, not to mention the strain on our over-taxed finances! It is enough to drive one to distraction. For I must satisfy everyone, from the lowest stable-hand to my overly-particular father and sister. Charles is happy with any gift, but my family members are more difficult.

A fine sentiment, but does anyone compliment ME?

A fine sentiment, but does anyone compliment ME?

Bless me, and then there are the beggars, I mean, carolers. The same scruffy group of ne’er-do-wells come round to the kitchen door and sing for wassail–repeatedly. I do think, since we feed them (and Charles will hand out coins) that they could take the trouble to learn new songs. But then again, after so many glasses of punch, I suppose proper harmonization is impossible.

From Christmastide to Twelfth Night, it is my lot to feed the world and suffer the agonies of stress. My poor nerves will not recover until Easter, at the very least.

Most cordially,

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

Have you discovered Mercy’s Embrace?
Romance, adventure, and Admiral Patrick McGillvary are waiting …

 

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

Vintage graphics courtesy of The Graphics Fairy