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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

The Steamy One Night Affair – Do you or Don’t you?

van-dongen-woman-on-a-sofa-19301

Tea: Earl Grey with a splash of Milk

Music: Ralph Vaughan Williams: Fantasia on a Theme

Quote: “The fine flower of their intimacy was to her rather like an orchid, a bulb stuck parasitic on her tree of life, and producing, to her eyes, a rather shabby flower. She was aware only of the physical aversion. It rose up in her from her depths: and she realized how it had been eating her life away.” Lady Chatterley’s Lover by D.H. Lawrence

Question:

If the opportunity for the perfect, steamy, one-time affair came along, and you knew your partner wouldn’t find out, should you (1) take it because life is too short, OR (2) pass?

Best,

Torn in Temecula

My Response:

Dear Torn in Temecula,

As a hypothetical question, it is tricky because you are assuming the impossible, the perfect, steamy, one-time affair. If you are writing to me with this question, it shows that you are not the type to enter into a steamy, one-time affair lightly. Even if your partner won’t find out, you will most likely be overwhelmed with guilt, or develop impractical feelings for this new lover. Your perfect affair will seem not so perfect pretty quickly.

In romance, the imagined is often much better than the realized. Whatever you imagine this steamy, one-time affair to be, it is doubtful that it will be as good in reality as you think. I would only recommend an affair if your marriage or relationship is so unbearable that you are willing to risk losing it. Lady Chatterley’s affair with her gamekeeper would not have occurred if her husband wasn’t such a weak, selfish, and impotent snob. Their marriage was nothing more than “a shabby flower” and she felt nothing but “aversion” for him. In this case, one can understand what would drive her to embark on an affair. Especially when you have the virile and earthy Oliver Mellors residing in the nearby woods! Who can resist a “reckless devil”?

Affairs should always be the last resort. Even if you manage to turn your one time-affair into a stable relationship with your new lover, the guilt and baggage that comes with the affair is likely to haunt you -remember Anna Karenina? My advice is that unless you want your marriage or relationship to end, you should devote your energies to reminding yourself why you fell in love with your husband or lover to begin with. Unless your husband or lover is a weak, selfish, impotent snob. And then maybe you are better off with your steamy, one-time affair!

Good luck with your Decision!

Erica

January 11, 2012   4 Comments