Rumination on Aunt Sophronia

Who is Aunt Sophronia?

She’s a mythical character, the narrator, of a 19th century housekeeping book, the Complete Home by Mrs. Julia McNair Wright (McCurdy, 1879).

The book is one of the older “housewifery” books I own. In many ways, it’s amusing, but in others, it addresses things which might be so, but its perspective I don’t share. There are various and sundry points which it makes me ponder.

First of all, she is addressing a white, WASP audience, which is talked about as the only right way to live. I guess if you’re a person of color or other belief system, well, you were beyond reproach. In any case, the book was not written for a multicultural, multiethnic audience.

Secondly, this is from the era when they believed that airing was important. It is, but not the way it’s talked about. However, it was the science available to them at the time.

Third, it is also an era where WASP folk of any substance had servants.

With all that in mind, here is a quote:


“Practice economy as a Fine Art: make a duty and pleasure of it: it is the mortar where in you lay up  the walls of home; if it is lacking, or is poor in quality, the home building will crumble. Don’t be ashamed of economy: study it; consult about it; don’t confound it with meanness: economy is the nurse of liberality. Meanness is going into debt for luxury: is keeping behind-hand the wages our work-people have earned: is making a show on the street and withholding charity: is presenting cake & confections to our callers, and stinting the kind or quality of our servants’ food.”(p. 65)


Almost everything we own/do would be considered a luxury by the standard of the late 19th century I think. The statement “meanness is going into debt for luxury” seems appropriate. It’s normal now to live beyond our means, but how could we live differently in this culture? Have we been sold a bill of goods? Is keeping up with the Joneses, imaginary or not, the marketing tool of mass merchandising?

complete-home-cover-and-spine

Have I been a sucker my entire life? Maybe.

Without the ‘net, a car, etc. you’re pretty much going to be in poverty, wouldn’t you? Yes, there are ways around some of this: libraries and public transportation.

Frugality these days means paying off your house early or having no credit card debt. If, as the book suggests elsewhere, our job is to pass a home (without debt) and some money to the next generation, how would we live differently?

I have no children, so my next generation is my husband’s nieces. My brother’s child has two working parents and is an adult, married woman, not needing (or wanting) anything from us. So — what would I change and should I?

I’m not sure, but it is an interesting thought experiment.

 

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