Living as a Victorian …

There’s a minor spat going on over at Slate about the validity (or otherwise) of a couple in Washington state in the US who have chosen to live a late nineteenth century life eschewing modern conveniences like electricity and all the gamut of technology that comes with it.

These people are essentially re-enactors, fully immersed re-enactors but re-enactors nevertheless. There are of course contradictions in what they are doing.

Their books are advertised on the web, and I’m sure that if one of them became ill they would not eschew the benefits of modern medicine or medical technology.

Most crucially they can stop whenever they want.

Unlike one of my great uncles who lived on a remote sheep farm well into the nineteen seventies without electricity, telephone or television.

Apart from a battery radio, a battered tractor and an equally battered truck he lived what was essentially a nineteenth century existence doing a nineteenth century job. Yet he had no doubt about the conveniences of modern life, at the first opportunity he acquired an LPG fridge, stove and heating to keep food fresh and to escape the tyrrany of keeping the range stocked with wood. Lack of a suitable alternative meant he stuck with oil lights until petrol generators became cheap enough to buy and run.

He had no doubt of the conveniences of modern life, and as soon as he could adopt them, he did.

At a fundamental level, attempting to live a nineteenth century is a conceit. That is not to say that re-enactment does not teach us things, like how much effort went into the business of life, how difficult it was to keep things clean, the joy or otherwise of dealing with a wood range on a permanent basis (we supplement our very twentyfirst century ducted heating with a wood stove in winter, and I can tell you that lighting it and keeping it supplied steals an hour from my winter evenings).

Reenactment of course has its limits. The penny post is no more. The railway network has shrunk and one’s life is no longer governed by the arrival of the mail or papers on the train.

Reenactment might teach you how some nineteenth century things work, and might well in some cases aid research, but one cannot recreate the structures of nineteenth century life.

It is telling that the re-enactors have chosen to live a pretend Victorian comfortable middle class existence rather than that of nineteenth century farmworkers which was infinitely less comfortable.

To wish to escape the pressures of the modern world is natural enough. To try to live a simpler less material existence is entirely laudable, but let’s not pretend you are reliving life in a different era.

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About dgm

IT professional, ex research psychologist, blogger, twitterer, and amateur classical and medieval historian ...
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