In the last week alone I have espied three different cases of women harking back to the ‘golden days of yore’. That lovely vague wafty time we all have in our heads when we weren’t alive yet and things were somehow better. (That is one of the many curses of being human; being deeply suspicious that things are better without you but wanting to be a part of it anyway.)
I’ll expound: there was an old school friend planning a regency wedding, a former drama student on a photoshoot in some stately grounds for something dramatic, (doing that ‘wan’ look women do when they want to look ‘classical’), and a woman I didn’t know from Adam practically goatherding her wilful teen to the hallowed Jane Austen shelf in a bookshop (even though the teen was definitely angling more for underage vampire sex – I saw her pupils dilate going past Twilight, the dirty hormone; she wasn’t thinking of her educational furtherment; she just wanted to know if the wolf boy finally decks the pale undead dude with the pointy teeth. Topless. And wet. At the top of a tree or something. Anyway.)
These things caught me in a rare bad mood. I’d been in a right hump all week so instead of being my usual “let’s put on a bonnet and run around a privet maze, giggling” self, I tutted, and scowled. Yes. Scowled.
“It’s like you all want to live in different, better times.” I thought, bitterly – as though that was completely unreasonable.
(Though of course we all do, a bit. We all have ‘the time we’d like to live in’ and it’s hardly ever ‘right now’.)
But I was not sympathetic to my sisters’ epoch whimsy. No.
“Oh, I’d so love to live in Jane Austen’s time! I would! I would, I wouldy-would-would!”
No, love – you wouldn’t. You wouldn’t want to live in those times. If you lived in the years of yester, the estuary twang in your voice tells me you’d be a mere rung above destitution. You’d probably be gathering skirts around your waist in an oom-pah-pah bar in Dickens’ east-end, or snuffling in some bins for pheasant bones round the back of an eminent surgeon’s townhouse, (flogged when caught, and cast out of your syphilis-stained boarding house). You’d have had your childhood sweetheart Billy Thompson ripped away from you to work in some ramshackle stables up north, and your best mate Flora Biffins would have died of typhoid. In your arms. In a field. In the rain. At best you’d have a chance of dragging yourself out of the mire if your hard-working father, a born actor, had inveigled his way into a Chancery Lane gentleman’s club and won some valuable land in a midnight game of baccarat disguised as landed gentry. You’d then be used as a pink-cheeked bargaining tool while rich men bid again for the lost land to make way for a lace factory with a hidden sideline in back-room blowjobs. Worse than being an objectified sex husk to a man you didn’t love, you’d be wearing a corset so unforgiving your insides would be folded like a fan and every time you sat down at an unfortunate angle you’d groan like a disconsolate accordion. You’d be wearing a bonnet so cumbersome it could break a coalface apart with one beak blow. When not applauding your husband’s many redoubtable achievements like having sideburns the size of Norfolk or having a foreskin that looks a bit like Lord Byron if you squint, your feeble hands would be permanently employed in the tedium of cross-stitch and pianoforte practice – while your toes would divide the tasks of stroking a one-eyed lapdog by the fire, painting a cherub on a jug, and catching up on correspondence with a crippled rheumatic cousin from another county. You wouldn’t be able to vote, laugh too loudly, or be a lesbian. Scratch your tit on a bus, or decide what you want for dinner. You certainly wouldn’t be able to follow your heart, go to university, or burp really loudly in a lecture theatre after five pints so that your fellow under-graduates think the ceiling is coming down. Plus loads of other stuff; that’s just the first swathe that popped out.
I huffed at all this. And then I got over it and thought of Colin Firth rising up out of the lake at Pemberley. Because that really is a thing for all time that no bad mood can outlast.