Are we all reading Longbourn yet? The current Comedy Wives book club book, Longbourn, by Jo Baker is based on the events detailed in our beloved Pride and Prejudice. (Yes, that is where you know that name from!) The story is told this time from the perspective of ‘downstairs’, the long suffering staff of the Bennet’s entailed-away-to- cousin-Collins home.
I will not be talking about Longbourn yet, because I want to give ‘yall a chance to read it. Today I’m going to talk about something that has really captured my imagination lately: indoor plumbing.
Don’t worry, I won’t be disgusting like I was in my last post, although as a quick update I do love my new toilet. It’s just been such a pleasure to use and Mike won’t stop talking about it. I’m already getting used to the idea of having a superior toilet in our house, the same way as I got used to having a working shower when we redid our bathroom after an embarrassingly long time of having to turn our hot water on under the kitchen sink.
It is amazing how quickly one gets used to innovation. For the first few months with our new Iphones we felt like Kings among men and now I would be hard-pressed to tell you what I did before I had candy crush to play while watching television.
Sometimes when I’m taking a luxuriantly long shower I think about how amazing it is that I get to have soft, blistering hot water cascading down on me for however long I want, whenever I feel like it, at the turn of a knob. But we take it for granted don’t we? We know that much of the world’s population doesn’t have clean running water to drink and yet we take daily showers and don’t feel like kings among men until we buy a new Iphone. And then that feeling wears away too.
Anyway, today we will appreciate indoor plumbing, and try to imagine a time before it was even a thing. The first chapter of Longbourn, which you can read online, has the Bennet’s housemaid, Sarah fetching water from the well in the predawn cold for laundry day. She talks a lot about her chilblains and it makes my hands hurt to think about it. Thank you indoor plumbing!
Also there’s this priceless line “If Elizabeth had the washing of her own petticoats, Sarah often thought, she’d most likely be a sight more careful with them” (Jo Baker, Longbourn.) Elizabeth, who you may remember ruining her marriage prospects by tramping across fields and muddying her petticoats, to the undisguised horror of the Bingley sisters.
In addition to slowly reading Longbourn, and concurrently rereading Pride and Prejudice, because I don’t want to miss a single reference, I happened upon the most wonderful book last week: The Secret Rooms By Catherine Bailey. If you like terms like Gothic mystery, conniving duchess, witches’ curse, and “the third footman recalled…”, you will like this book, but only if you also like reading extensive excerpts from real letters written back and forth between English Lords and Ladies. Essentially, this book was written specifically with Sarah and me in mind.
The Secret Rooms tells the story of the ninth Duke of Rutland, his mysterious death, and his seat, the Belvoir Castle in Leicestershire. (It’s pronounced Beaver Castle, can you imagine?) It’s fantastic so far. Anyway, this description has really captured my imagination:
As she looked back nearly sixty years later, the armies of servants who traipsed its corridors and on whom the family depended for their basic amenities loomed in Diana’s memory: ‘The watermen are difficult to believe in today’ she wrote: ‘They seemed to me to belong to another clay. They were the biggest people I had ever seen, much bigger than any of the men of the family, who were remarkable for their height. They had stubbly beards and a general Bill Sikes appearance. They wore brown clothes, no collars and thick green baize aprons from chin to knee. On their shoulders they carried a wooden yoke from which hung two gigantic cans of water. They moved on a perpetual round. Their job was to keep all jugs, cans and kettles full in the bedrooms, and morning or evening to bring the hot water for the hip-baths.’ “
-Catherine Bailey. The Secret Rooms. Penguin.
What the hell? I mean, is this even a thing? I couldn’t find anything online. Please enlighten me if you do know, I want to know so much more about watermen!!
To be clear, Longbourn would not have had watermen, obviously, being a house not a castle. BUT do you think maybe Pemberley would have had watermen? I hope so.