Saturday, 15 December 2012

15th December - Mother's Darling

Today has been splendidly Christmas-y at Castle Walker.  We have made gingerbread houses, dressed the Christmas tree and boozed up the Christmas cake a little bit more, all topped off by a splendid romp around a wood in silly Winter hats...

A flashing light went on in Social Services...
Yes, I did knit them myself.  So, now I am sat in my very festive home, writing another blogvent entry, in full knowledge that in 9 days time it will be Christmas Eve!  How time flies when you're breathing in copious amounts of brandy!  Anyway, while I am in such a jovial mood, let me bring possibly the most horrendous Christmas related image so far.

Brace yourself.....

Mother's Darling Frederick Morgan
Heavens, how awful.  A jolly mother carries her blonde, chubby-kneed child on her back, while they both laugh with the jolly high-spirited wonderment of it all.  She has paused beneath the mistletoe to no doubt kiss her cherubic little bumpkin because it is all so damn marvellous.  Oh yes, this is a brutally realistic image of motherhood.  Mind you, I'm in the image above it wearing a deer hat that matches my daughter's, so possibly I'm in no position to judge.

Frederick Morgan was the purveyor of such bleak scenes of social realism, including this terrible image of the plight of children forced to share their amenities with animals...

His Turn Next... (c.1915)
The horror.  I think what the image of Mother's Darling (Good Lord, how revolting) offers us is the archetypal Victorian notion of Christmas and children.  Christmas is for children, there is no doubt about it, and I think the reason is that it is wasted on adults.  To explain I offer this image...

Most children in our Western society will recognise the jolly old man in the picture and will believe with fervent passion that he exists (and possibly that he drinks Coca Cola).  The Victorians linked children with Christmas because without hesitation children believed that the white-bearded man would bring them gifts if they had been good.  Never mind all that 'saviour born in a manger' business, far more alive to them was a 4th century saint who filled their rooms with gifts, who actively expected good, 'Christian' behaviour on a yearly basis, and he would be grading the exam.  None of that 'getting your reward/punishment when you die' malarky that adults believed in, Father Christmas was marking you as you went along, and if you were naughty, it wouldn't be burning in Hell you had to worry about.  It was far worse: no presents.

When looked at like that, possibly the Victorian obsession with children and Christmas was a sort of jealousy.  Children understood the notion of being rewarded for good behaviour in a very simple way and the magic of seeing their conduct rewarded was celebrated.  How much simpler, how much more delightful than having to be an adult, knowing that the presents didn't just appear, the bounty of good behaviour.  I can't remember when I realised that Father Christmas didn't actually deliver the presents, possibly many years before my parents stopped sneaking into my room to fill a pillowcase with gifts in the middle of the night, but the magic of closing my eyes to no presents and opening them up to a heap of treasure is still vivid in my memory.  But would children enjoy Christmas less if they didn't believe a red-suited man broke into their house every year to leave them presents, if it was just their parents who gave them gifts?

Santa got some contractors in...
What Frederick Morgan's ecstatic mother could be so happy about is the vicarious pleasure of innocence and belief.  The child is delighted because everything is good, about as good as it could be, because he is loved and a magical being is about to reward him for his perceived good behaviour (we all know that behaviour has no bearing on the presents at all).  Just as the toys reflect adult concerns (a doll standing in for a baby, toy houses, toy trains, toy weapons) then the belief system of Christmas is the junior version of Christianity.  If you believe in the coming and returning of the man, he will return and reward you.  Year after year he returns to reward the good, the kind, the believers, and, notionally at least, to punish the bad with no gifts.  It is heaven and hell with shiny ribbons on top and it doesn't matter if you get it wrong one year as there is always a chance to change your ways and get it right next year.  Santa doesn't hold a grudge, and his memory is only as long as a year.  Learn your lesson and get on the 'Nice' list early, if you know what I mean.

Well maybe, after all that, Frederick Morgan is just enamored with the cloying loveliness of children and pretty women in white frilly dresses, Lord knows he wouldn't be the first one.  But just for a moment, dear readers, have a little dream that somewhere a man of mythic status, dressed in robes of red or green, trimmed in exuberant white fur that mirrors his long flowing beard, is loading up his sleigh, harnessed to large, beautiful flying reindeers who cloud the frost-ringed air with their patient breaths.

And on his list is you.

See you tomorrow.


Many thanks for your comment. I shall post it up shortly! Kx