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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???


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.



May 18, 2012   No Comments

Bridesmaid Squabbles in New Orleans: Lessons from Enchanted April

Painting by Hon Lady Mallet

Tea:  Earl Grey

Music:  Girls Just Wanna Have Fun by Cyndi Lauper


Dear Erica,

I am planning my best-friends Bachlorette party, and I’m getting more and more annoyed with one of the other bridesmaids.  I’m the Maid of Honor, and I was the one who came up with the idea of doing the Bachlorette party in New Orleans, but now she has gotten involved, and is taking over everything.  She has organized the restaurant for our big night out, decided what clubs we MUST go to, booked the hotel, without even asking for any advice from me(the bride’s best friend!).  Now, honestly, she has made good choices, but I hate that she has taken it out of my hands.  Am I being petty?  How do I handle it?

Bridesmaid in Boston

Dear Bridesmaid in Boston,

It is totally natural that this other girl’s behavior would annoy you, but the only advice I can give you would be to repeat Lotty Wilkins’ words to Rose Arbuthnot in Enchanted April by Elizabeth von Arnim.  When the elderly and extremely opinionated Mrs. Fisher took over the housekeeping of their rented villa in Italy(a villa that Lotty and Rose had found!), Rose’s initial reaction was resentment and frustration.

But we found San Salvatore,” said Mrs. Arbuthnot, “and it is rather silly that Mrs. Fisher should behave as if it belonged only to her.”

But her friend, Lotty Wilkins, soon puts things in perspective.

“What is rather silly,” said Mrs. Wilkins with much serenity, “is to mind. I can’t see the least point in being in authority at the price of one’s liberty.”

Rather than feel petty resentments at Mrs. Fisher for taking over the houskeeping of their Italian holiday villa, Rose realizes that her friend Lotty is right.   Free of the burdens of day-to-day housekeeping, she can better enjoy her holiday, and I suggest you do the same.  Enjoy the Bachlorette party, and don’t get lost in the little nitty gritty details of the planning.  If you think this other bridesmaid is making a bad decision and the bride will have a terrible time, speak out.  And speak out loudly. Otherwise, allow this other girl to commandeer the planning of the trip, and use the free time you will have to create something special for your friend.  A scavenger hunt, a scrap book with pictures and mementos.  Focus your energy elsewhere, and try for a zen-like attitude, a la Enchanted April.  I know its probably easier to let things go when you are staying at a gorgeous Italian villa on the coast, but I have a feeling the Big Easy will wield its own sort of magic.  Just remember, if you have a wonderful time, you will help ensure that the bride also has a wonderful time!



March 9, 2012   No Comments