Tuesday, 18 December 2012

18th December - Christmas Carols

I have woken up this morning and found I have the lergy.  Alas,I am mildly unwell!  I have a slight cold and may well be a little bit ill!  I am wrapped in a blanket, watching rubbish telly and typing, feeling a bit sorry for myself, but I'm sure it will pass, probably by this afternoon.  Anyway, on with blogvent, we're down to the last week!

Christmas Carols Walter Dendy Sadler
When I saved this picture to my computer, I thought it looked like a straightforward, pretty picture of a Victorian Christmas family.  It was one of Sadler's most popular pictures, sold as an engraving under two titles: Christmas Carols or Home Sweet Home.  It is definitely pushing the domestic bliss of a decent family, three generations enjoying the simple pleasures of singing at Christmas.

But is there more going on, or have I taken too much Night Nurse...?  Let's have a look at the different elements.  Well, to start with it has a rather odd composition, with no centre, the figures dispersed across the scene.  Grandma and Grandpa sit in the armchairs, while Mum and Dad are at the piano and their munchkins are singing their little hearts out.  So far, so typical and normal, but then who's this?

Sat at Grandpa's feet is another woman, about the same age as the Mother of the children.  At first glance I thought she was an older child, but she is of an age with the woman at the piano, so I'm guessing she is the other child of Grandpa and Grandma.  She is auntie to the singing cherubs, how lovely.  Or is it?

While Mum and Dad are at the piano, the children sing, entertaining the elder members of the family.  It seems to be the role of the the younger members of the family to entertain the older ones.  This is before telly was invented and so this is obviously a precursor to post-Christmas dinner Top of the Pops, watched religiously by my brother and I on Christmas Day in the 70s and 80s.  Anyway, they are contributing to the festivity, they are part of the celebrations.  So what is Auntie doing?  She is reading a book.  Oh, dangerous stuff. I feel a bit uncomfortable about the hand on the head of Auntie, as if she was still a child.  Talking of children....

Little Moppet holds her dolly behind her back as she sings, in a wholly natural manner, but if you look at the doll, it rather resembles the Aunt and faces her across the room.  If we go with the notion that Auntie is the unmarried daughter, sister to either Mum or Dad at the piano, her role in the family seems to be brought into question.  What is she contributing to Christmas?  What is she contributing to the family as a whole?  From her position on the floor (she doesn't get a chair) she looks rather beaten and retreating, escaping into her book as if to protect herself.  In the Victorian parlour, what use is an unmarried adult daughter?  Sorry, an unmarried adult daughter who reads?  Good Lord!  No wonder they don't let her have a chair...

All around her on the floor is debris, things not wanted, things left over.  Music that isn't being used, wool that isn't being knitted, a game that is over:  all these things could indicate that Auntie is leftover, extra to the main event, but look at the skittles.  One skittle remains upright, one skittle is standing, refusing to be knocked over.

All the doors in the room are closed, the mirror reflects back nothing much, no way out, and Auntie has her back to the window, the only source of light.  Yet that one lone skittle, standing despite the onslaught gives me hope for Auntie.  She is at odds to the traditional bastions of Victorian domestic continuity, but there she is.  Maybe she hasn't done what the parents wanted her to do, maybe she is a bit different, but she exists and she is reading.  Spinsters didn't exactly get good press in Victorian England (Miss Havisham, anyone?) and the woman sat on the floor isn't exactly being given equal billing in the celebrations, the mistletoe way out of her reach, high up on the ceiling.  I hope Santa brings her a chair and a comfy pillow. And some more books.  And some earmuffs so she doesn't have to listen to the Moppet chorus while she is trying to read.  And I hope no-one asks her to play Old Maid.

Well, I think the Night Nurse is really kicking in now, so I'm off to have a little nap and I'll see you tomorrow...


  1. Hope you feel better soon. In the 1851 Census, there were 104 women for every 100 men in England and Wales. The 'Fishing Fleet' was a sad feature of the period. The National Review in the 1860s described spinsters in the following terms,

    a number quite disproportionate and quite abnormal; a number which, positively and relatively, is indicative of an unwholesome social state

    Anne Bronte, a Victorian spinster and writer
    An individual spinster or old maid could be pitied and patronised. As a group, spinsters were damaging to society, and redundant.

    Although it was rarely mentioned specifically, there was a general view that celibacy in women was unnatural.

    Of course, an old maid or a spinster was according to social norms considered to be a virgin. That was unnatural, and a waste.

    Edward Gibbon talked about single English women as, “growing thin, pale, listless and cross”.

    Thackeray described Charlotte Brontë as, “a noble heart longing to mate itself and destined to wither away into old maidenhood”.

  2. Thanks for that. If any of my single female friends are reading this, I promise you can have a chair at my house. Appalling stuff.

  3. Well, I guess I'm redundant enough to really need that chair about now. ;) Any brandy left?

  4. Miss Szramski, I suspect you have been reading again. Really, I feel there needs to be a book written about the dangers of reading to the female brain. Although, I would obviously get a nice man to read it for me and tell me about it afterwards, in nice simple terms.

    I'll join you in that brandy, and it's possibly safer if we stay on the floor...

  5. Good idea, Mrs. Walker. Both the brandy and the man reading to me in simple terms. Preferrably at the same time. Chairs aren't mandatory. ;) But none of those skittle things please.

    By the looks of the poor woman on the floor in the painting she's already been into the liquor cabinet. But I don't blame her. At least she had the presense of mind to grab her book before she slumped to the floor-- quick thinking.

  6. This is why I keep so much of my stuff on the floor...it's only a roll away...

  7. I think it brings to me a vision of Christmas as that time of year when the whole family get together including the slightly awkward, less-favourite relatives (me, lol). Maybe she isn't much into singing, or has lost her voice to a winter cold, or just doesn't do the excitement of family gatherings well, and is much happier reading a book. When I was younger and still made to go to family gatherings, I'd always bring a book so I didn't have to talk to anyone because I was very shy and didn't have much in common with them. I see it as the rest of her family mean well, but after Auntie has got through dinner, she's quite people'd out, so is going to sit on the floor and read. If you look in the mirror, there are two spare chairs, so she could have possibly fetched one. Maybe I just see Auntie as me...

    I quite like being a mad aunt (I bought my baby niece a nice black velvet party dress with an ivory collar and lace trim and a red velvet party dress, with bows, because she'll be so darn CUTE in them <3) but to the Victorians I would be worse than a spinster; I'm living in sin with my partner.

  8. Obviously I'm shocked at your immoral behaviour because I've never done anything so shocking, and certainly not between the years 1999-2003. Shame on you *ahem*. There is a lot to be said for being a crazy aunt, it keeps the family on their toes...


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