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Dust & Gossip: What would Elizabeth Von Arnim tell a moralizing busybody?

Tea: Peppermint Tea with Honey
Music: Liszt Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2

Dear Erica,

My husband’s widowed aunt is staying with us for the next two weeks, and she is driving me mad. Although she never had children of her own, she’s constantly commenting on my children’s terrible manners. And although she doesn’t cook, she can’t help but criticize my slightly browned (or burnt as she calls them) yorkshire puddings at the dinner table.  As you can tell, there is very little I do right in this woman’s eyes. I know I’m not perfect, but God help me, how am I going to bear her for the next fourteen days???

Best,

Exasperated in Essex

Dear Exasperated in Essex,

Your aunt reminds me of the meddlesome Mrs. Morrison in Elizabeth von Arnim’s Princess Priscilla’s Fortnight. She needs to learn how to mind her own business. Or as Elizabeth Von Arnim so eloquently puts it,

“There is a great virtue in sweeping out one’s own house and trimming its lamps before starting on the house and lamps of a neighbour; and since new dust settles every day, I know not when the truly tidy soul will have attained so perfect a spotlessness as to justify its issuing forth to attack the private dust of other people.”

You could try slipping a bookmarked copy of Princess Priscilla’s Fortnight in your aunt’s room to give her a hint. Or you can tell her she is “altogether impossible,” but as Priscilla found, that sort of honesty usually leads to more trouble than it’s worth. Unfortunately, I think your best bet is to grin and bear her as best you can. People like your aunt and Mrs. Morrison never change. Practice counting till ten, find yourself a good book, drink lots of tea, and soon the two weeks will be up, and you can enjoy your ill-mannered children and burnt yorkshire puds in peace.

Best,

Erica


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