I'm an odd thing. For instance, I like Dickens. Love him, actually. Acquired the taste late in life and am now gobbling him up.
Currently on the gobble is Our Mutual Friend, a savagely funny and at once heartrending account of Victorian life as it was led by the lower, middle and upper-middle classes. (Reading about Podsnappery, the philosophy for living espoused by an upright businessman named Podsnap, is like reading about certain political types in our current age. It's really rather frightening.)
But the fragment that prompts this post is the following. The former Miss Bella Wilfer, newly Mrs John Rokesmith, is learning how to be a housewife:
She always walked with her husband to the railroad, and was always there again to meet him; her old coquettish ways a little sobered down (but not much), and her dress as daintily managed as if she managed nothing else. But, John gone to business and Bella returned home, the dress would be laid aside, trim little wrappers and aprons would be substituted, and Bella, putting back her hair with both hands, as if she were making the most business-like arrangements for going dramatically distracted, would enter on the household affairs of the day. Such weighing and mixing and chopping and grating, such dusting and washing and polishing, such snipping and weeding and trowelling and other small gardening, such making and mending and folding and airing, such diverse arrangements, and above all such severe study! For Mrs J. R., who had never been wont to do too much at home as Miss B. W., was under the constant necessity of referring for advice and support to a sage volume entitled The Complete British Family Housewife, which she would sit consulting, with her elbows on the table and her temples on her hands, like some perplexed enchantress poring over the Black Art. This, principally because the Complete British Housewife, however sound a Briton at heart, was by no means an expert Briton at expressing herself with clearness in the British tongue, and sometimes might have issued her directions to equal purpose in the Kamskatchan language. In any crisis of this nature, Bella would suddenly exclaim aloud, 'Oh you ridiculous old thing, what do you mean by that? You must have been drinking!' And having made this marginal note, would try the Housewife again, with all her dimples screwed into an expression of profound research.
There was likewise a coolness on the part of the British Housewife, which Mrs John Rokesmith found highly exasperating. She would say, 'Take a salamander,' as if a general should command a private to catch a Tartar. Or, she would casually issue the order, 'Throw in a handful—' of something entirely unattainable. In these, the Housewife's most glaring moments of unreason, Bella would shut her up and knock her on the table, apostrophising her with the compliment, 'O you ARE a stupid old Donkey! Where am I to get it, do you think?'
Dear me. Poor Bella, how astonished you might be to know how little has changed 150-or-so years later!