by Mary Jo
Since Wench Edith is busy with a delightful bit of family business, I’m going to take this opportunity to continue Monday’s discussion on what it would be like to transfer ourselves to the past by taking advantage of Elaine McCarthy’s excellent question: What would we like about living in Regency times?
For instance, in the ‘not-so-great’ column was the fact that a large number of us might not have reached our present ages because we would have been pushing up daisies in a churchyard. As Talpianna said, and I’ve also heard, there has been more progress in medical science since 1900 than in all previous human history, and that sounds true.
As an addendum to that fact, probably the greatest human health advances have been because of publish health improvements, most coming in the late 19th century: clean water, cleaner air (there’s need to work on that one!), mass vaccinations, et al.
Vaccinations are controversial these days, largely because we’ve not seen the kind of mass plagues that used to take out huge numbers of people. Remember the novel MRS. MIKE, in which a city girl meets a handsome Canadian mountie in the far north, falls in love and marries him? There’s a lot about the book that I don’t remember, but I remember vividly the woman who told the heroine that a child reminded her of a daughter of her "first family." Turns out she meant that kids were so vulnerable to disease that it wasn’t unusual to lose all of one’s kids to diphtheria, smallpox, typhoid, or something equally awful. And then have a ‘second family’–and possibly lose all those kids, too. Chilling! (Particularly if you remember the ending of the book.)
But at the same time–wouldn’t it be fantastic not to think of food as our enemy? To be able to eat pies and cakes and roast beef without wondering if they might kill us? ‘Twould be bliss indeed!
And in a related topic–how nice not to worry about weight all the time. With a world full of Barbies to make us feel porky, and far too much fattening food at every turn, wouldn’t it be great to live in a society where a little padding was seen as a sign of health and prosperity? And where as a matter of course, one did enough walking to stay healthy and appreciate nature?
I think that simple things brought more pleasure. These days, we swim in wonderful music whenever we wish. People with iPods have so much music plugged directly into their heads that they can ignore reality altogether. Think of the joy of getting together with your neighbors and enjoying the skills of the pianist, the fiddler, the harpist! Think of the pleasure of singing songs together with your family and friends. Imagine the excitement of the local fair when it’s the only such entertainment available to you.
And then there’s courtship. As Kalen pointed out, in the TV show Regency House party, the hostess was vastly deficient in her duties in not arranging more for the young ladies to do, especially co-ed activities. What fun to have men competing for our favors! (Okay, I’m suspending some disbelief to think there would be hordes of men competing for my attention, but maybe one or two. <g>)
How nice to have a man send flowers the morning after a ball instead of the dreary hooking up young people do today! There’s no question that women today have vastly improved opportunities and freedoms. But how lovely it would be to be able to tell a man NO!, I don’t want to go to bed with you!, and not have to explain why. One of the harsher aspects of our modern day is that sexual freedom in practice means that a woman may have to defend her choice to keep her body to herself.
I don’t doubt that Regency women were very busy, but I think they might not have been as harried as we are today, with so many choices, so many responsibilities, and the chronic belief that we’re being the eight-ball, that we’re missing something, that we’ve made the wrong choices and ruined our lives.
Fewer choices mean less stress. (Ask anyone who has just had to pick the right health care options from an insurer!) More time to do as one wishes means less stress. How lovely to live in a day when one didn’t have to be Superwoman–it was enough simply to be A Regency Woman.