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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

May 18, 2012   No Comments

Ending an Engagement: Break Slowly or Snap Suddenly?

Promenade by Auguste Macke

Tea:  PG Tips with a splash of milk

Music:  Handel:  Alla Hornpipe, Suite in D Water Music

Dear Erica,

I’ve gotten engaged to my boyfriend of nearly five years, but after just a few short weeks, I’ve decided I can’t go through with it.  How can I end it as nicely as possibly?  Do I tell him I’m having doubts now and then later on break the news gently?  Or do I tell him right away?  I know I will hurt him, and I do care for him, but I also know I’d be miserable if I married him.  What should I do?

Distressed in Denver

Dear Distressed in Denver,

If you are certain you want to end your engagement, I advise you to do it right away.  Unfortunately, breaking off an engagement is never easy, as Helen tells her sister Margaret in Howard’s End.

“Can you break an engagement off slowly?”  Her eyes lit up.  ”What’s an engagement made of, do you suppose?  I think it’s made of some hard stuff, that may snap.  It is different to the other ties of life.  They stretch or bend.  They admit of degree.  They’re different.” Howard’s End by E.M Forster

In Howard’s End, Paul Wilcox and Helen Schlegel enter into a whirlwind engagement that they soon regret.  Once they had broken off their engagment, Paul and Helen never felt the same about each other, the spark of attraction disappeared, and an antipathy developed between their two families.  As I’m sure you are aware, your old relationship will never be the same.  However, as difficult as a broken engagement can be, it is more important to be true to yourself than to remain engaged.  If Helen and Paul had remained engaged, she would have been miserable and would not have lived the life she was meant to live. And as messy and dramatic as that life turned out to be, she was far happier being true to herself.

My only advice is that if you are sure you want to end your engagement, you should do it quickly, decisively, and with as much discretion as possible, i.e., try to keep the gossiping to a minimum.  In Howard’s End, different family members get the wrong end of the stick as letters are exchanged and gossip spreads.  As a sign of respect and affection, you must tell your fiance the news first, and avoid discussing the matter with too many people.  As hurt as he will be by your ending the engagement, he will be mortally wounded if he finds out from someone else that you are having doubts.  I wish I could give you more comforting words of advice, but just remember, that many women have found themselves in the same unfortunate situation as you, and some very remarkable heroines, and they all survived.  And you will too.

Best,

Erica

February 22, 2012   No Comments

Jennifer Aniston & Somerset Maugham on Love Lasting Forever

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Tea: Plantation Mint

Music: Edvard Grieg: Peer Gynt Suite #2 Op 55

Quote: “We are not the same persons this year as the last; nor are those we love. It is a happy chance if we, changing, continue to love a changed person.” W. Somerset Maugham

Or for a modern day perspective:

Quote: “Whoever said that every relationship has to last for ever? That’s hoping for too much.” Jennifer Aniston

The celebrity gossip following Jennifer Aniston’s series of breakups, from John Mayer, to Vince Vaughn, and even before that Brad Pitt, begs the question: where is her happily ever after? Has she finally found it with Justin Theroux?  Or is she destined to be alone?  In considering Jennifer Aniston’s situation, I am not going to suggest that it is because she is fickle, works in the superficial world of Hollywood, or chooses the wrong men. All are possibilities mind you, but I am giving her the benefit of the doubt. Instead I would like to recognize the striking similarity in her views on the difficulty in maintaining a long term relationship with those of the writer Somerset Maugham.

Although the trials and tribulations of Hollywood royalty may seem as irrelevant to our personal romantic troubles as the characters in an old novel, we have more in common with both Hollywood stars and imaginary literary characters than we realize. In life, we are constantly evolving, growing, and ultimately changing. You are not the same person today, as you were the day before, and neither is your lover. In Somerset Maugham’s The Painted Veil, shallow, pretty Kitty Fane embarks on a passionate love affair with the equally shallow Charlie Townsend which goes awry when her husband walks in on them. (Ouch) After spending time in Mei Tan Fu with her estranged doctor husband, and working at the local convent, the suffering and death she witnesses changes her outlook on life. And so when she returns to Hong Kong, her feelings for Charlie Townsend undergo a great transformation as her passionate adoration turns into distaste and contempt, clearly evinced in her last words to him: “You really are the most vain and fatuous ass it’s ever been my bad luck to run across.” (Nothing like calling a man a vain and fatuous ass to put him in his place!)

Our daily experiences change us, and those of our lover and we can find ourselves worlds apart after only a few days apart. So even if we are not Jennifer Aniston, or an imaginary character in a Somerset Maugham novel, we can relate to their difficulties in maintaining a long term relationship because as Somerset Maugham writes, it is a happy chance, if we changing, continue to love a changed person.

July 22, 2011   1 Comment

Old Fashioned Remedies for the Doldrums

watercolor

Tea: Peach Tea
Music: Trouble by Cat Stevens

Quote: “Things worry me sometimes, but I just catch up a broom and sweep, or wash hard, or walk, or go at something with all my might, and I usually find that by the time I get through the worry is gone, or I `ve got courage enough to bear it without grumbling,” answered Polly. An Old Fashioned Girl by Louisa May Alcott

While nearly every young woman has read the classic Little Women, another great work by Louisa May Alcott, An Old Fashioned Girl, is too often overlooked. Polly Milton is the story’s charming heroine, an old fashioned country girl, who wins over her rich relations and the adorable Tom Shaw with her sweetness, humour, and a healthy dose of common-sense (reflected in the quote above). By and large, a great deal of worry and unhappiness is caused by thinking too much of one’s own personal grievances. Polly’s way of dealing with her worries may be old-fashioned (even for her time-and we are talking about the 19th century!), but it is as effective today as it was in Alcott’s sweet story.
Keep in mind, when I say worries, I am not talking about the worry endured by a single mother who doesn’t know how to put food on the table, or the crippled soldier who doesn’t know when he will next see his family. I am talking about myself, and many like me, who are disappointed that they didn’t get into the graduate program of their choice, or that the dream job didn’t materialize, or (and this is the most common cause of the doldrums) that the guy they like isn’t calling. Bastard! For women and girls like myself, whose small petty problems can feel overwhelming, Polly’s old-fashioned advice to go “catch up a broom and sweep, or wash hard, or walk”, coupled with her tendency to help others is an excellent remedy for the doldrums. As my mother says, life is not fair. When I’m feeling sorry for myself, I try to remember how much worse things could be(have you seen how those children live in Slumdog Millionaire?), go for a walk, tidy up the house, anything to keep me from moping.

Before you think Polly is too much of a goody two-shoes to have any relevance for us modern day women, I should make you aware that she displays a healthy antagonism towards her arch-nemesis and rival, Trix, and recklessly splurges on a new pair of gloves and bonnet when she shouldn’t. Who could really like a girl who did not say something bitchy once in a while or spend too much on a new dress? And that brings me to my second remedy for the doldrums. If cleaning the house, exercise or charity work does not drag you out of your moping, put on your sexiest dress, curl your hair, and hit the town. Better yet, put on your sexiest dress and volunteer at the nearby convalescent home. Even in a wheelchair, men do notice! Just making a little bit of effort with your appearance will have an effect on not only those around you, but on your own self-esteem. Never underestimate the power of a little lipstick when you need to rescue yourself from the doldrums.

January 22, 2011   No Comments

Princes & Pomp

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Tea: Mint Medley
Music: Pachelbel-Leppard: Canon

Quote: “Perhaps, after all, romance did not come into one’s life with pomp and blare, like a gay knight riding down; perhaps it crept to one’s side like an old friend through quiet ways; perhaps it revealed itself in seeming prose, until some sudden shaft of illumination flung athwart it’s pages and betrayed the rhythm and the music; perhaps… perhaps… love unfolded naturally out of a beautiful friendship, as a golden-hearted rose slipping from its green sheath. -L.M. Montgomery

or put bluntly,
“True love comes quietly, without banners or flashing lights. If you hear bells, get your ears checked.” Erich Segal

You may not find Lucy Maud Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables series next to Jane Eyre at the bookstore. In fact, it would most likely be relegated to the teen literature department. But, Anne’s prickly relationship with Gilbert has to be considered one of the best literary love stories, and provides a number of lessons for us modern day women. What true romantic was not intrigued by Anne’s feisty rivalry with Avonlea heartthrob Gilbert Blythe? Their initial bickering evolved into a warm and affectionate friendship that had you rooting for them from the the first time he called her “Carrots”. However, when he professed his love for her, she turned him away because he did not fit her romantic ideal. Dreaming of drama and adventure, she left home to find a romantic hero, only to find everything she wanted could be found in her small hometown and in the friend she had foolishly brushed aside.

As we look for love in the twenty first century, we should do our best to avoid looking for an unrealistic romantic hero outside of our everyday world (a prince on a white horse). Those princes do exist, but are few and far between. If you are not careful, you may miss out on the real love of your life because you are too busy chasing an illusion. Don’t overlook that childhood friend, that roommate, that colleague or old boyfriend who doesn’t fit into the romantic ideal you have foolishly created for yourself.

January 13, 2011   2 Comments