I’m reading a book set in the early 1800s. A couple of days ago I came across this scene involving the Main Character, her married friend, the friend’s husband, and the husband’s son by his first wife. They are inspecting a local inn to see if its accommodations are suitable for a dance they are planning.
The married friend–we’ll call her Mrs. Weston–expresses “some little distress” at the condition of the wallpaper.
“Look! in places you see it is dreadfully dirty; and the wainscot is more yellow and forlorn than any thing I could have imagined.”
“My dear, you are too particular,” said her husband. “What does all that signify? You will see nothing of it by candlelight. It will be as clean as [our house] by candlelight. We never see any thing of it on our club-nights.”
The ladies here probably exchanged looks which meant, “Men never know when things are dirty or not;” and the gentlemen perhaps thought each to himself, “Women will have their little nonsenses and needless cares.”
This passage was especially meaningful, since that very morning I had inspected the freestanding toothbrush holder in the bathroom. I have not kept my own toothbrush in the holder for years because someone in this house–there are three suspects–apparently deposits his toothbrush streaming wet. The water drains to the bottom of the holder and grows foul unless someone (that would be me) empties it every few days and wipes out the bottom. When things get busy, as they have been lately, this does not happen.
And indeed, when I removed the perforated top, I found a quarter-inch of something that was almost, but not quite, entirely unlike pond scum. I emptied the container (never, ever buy a freestanding toothbrush holder that does not have a removable lid), rinsed it out, dried it with a Kleenex® tissue and was all set to put back the toothbrushes when I saw that–
Yuuuuck! Something was growing on the bottom of a couple of the handles! Hadn’t anybody noticed that? I mean, mildew smells!
Wiping them down didn’t do it. While I was steeping the toothbrush handles in a solution of bleach and water, the owner of one of those toothbrushes wandered through the kitchen and said, “I understand why you are doing this.”
Which means this person was aware of the problem. I can’t get my mind around the fact that this person didn’t do anything about it.
But thanks to my recent reading, I now realize that being dirt-impaired is not a moral failing or a stereotype perpetuated by TV sitcoms. It is a phenomenon that has been observed for centuries–the passage about the peeling wallpaper is in Emma, by Jane Austen, which was first printed in 1815.
I shudder to consider the probable state of Mr. Weston’s toothbrush.
Note: for a look at what Mr. Weston’s toothbrush might have looked like and other details about how people in Jane’s time cared for their teeth, see this post http://bit.ly/cdYs4v in Nineteen Teen, a blog about being a teenager in the 19th century. The bloggers are both writers of YA historical fiction: Marissa Doyle (Bewitching Season, Betraying Season) and Regina Scott (La Petite Four and a whole bunch of Regency romances).
© 2010 Anne Bingham and Making It Up as I Go