You can just surrender now, XOJane's "It Happened to Me" column. Give it up, Guardian's "Comment Is Free" section. You may even have some competition, Clickhole. Because Vox just came in and dropped some next level trolling on us all this week with the self-explanatorily titled piece "I love the Victorian era. So I decided to live in it." Mission accomplished, Vox — for giving the 19th century the greatest non-"Masterpiece Theater" related boost ever.
Writing, perhaps, with her "antique fountain pen that I fill with liquid ink using an eyedropper," Sarah A. Chrisman describes how she and her husband successfully transitioned from 21st century to the 19th. They both ardently study the late Victorian era of the 1880s and '90s, and admit, "The process didn't happen all at once. We had to work hard for our dreams. The life we now enjoy came bit by bit, through gifts we gave each other." It's a choice that for Chrisman involves the simple pleasures of baking sourdough bread from scratch and bathing "with a bowl and pitcher every morning," one free of "cheap modern things" and rich in "durable, beautiful items."
It sounds, admittedly, pretty dreamy the way she describes it, a life of lovingly prepared food and Penny-Farthing bicycle rides and zero Kardashians. It's all the stuff we white people watch those opulent period piece movies for. But just remember, we're talking about a world without penicillin and no real deodorant to speak of, so you can deal me out right there. Also, I like voting and being able to have money and property in my own name and not dying giving birth to my tenth baby, so there's that too.
Chrisman, who has written books on her "Adventures in Nineteenth-Century Culture" — including corsetry — and offers consulting services on Victorian-era projects, says that "quite frankly — we love living this way." She finds beauty and mindfulness in a life that doesn't include a cell phone or driver's license, even though she and her husband also "live in a world that can be terribly hostile to difference of any sort. Societies are rife with bullies who attack nonconformists of any stripe. We have been called 'freaks,' 'bizarre,' and an endless slew of far worse insults."
I'm not one to care how other people run their private lives, and besides, Gabriel's look is basically the same as every contemporary male in Williamsburg. I'm not even going to quibble over the fact that for a couple devoted to the Victorian era, they sure have an extensive Web presence. But like many people reading Chrisman's story right now, I do marvel at the selectivity of it. When Chrisman writes that "Even before I met Gabriel, we both saw value in older ways of looking at the world. He had been homeschooled as a child, and he never espoused the strict segregation that now seems to exist between life and learning," I ask myself if it crossed her mind that to use the "segregation" while approvingly describing the era in which the Jim Crow laws came to prominence was the best word choice.
And when she talks about how much she's always "admired Victorian ideals and aesthetics," I question how great that time was for those individuals who risked imprisonment because of their sexual orientation, or exclusion because their race. Wouldn't want to be an immigrant orphan living in a tenement either, I'd wager. The good old days probably weren't so hot for people who didn't have the means to blog about it.
If you're into wearing corsets and writing with a fountain pen, God bless. If you're romanticizing an era in which more than half the children born in American cities would die before their fifth birthdays, people on the Internet are probably going to go ahead and make jokes about whether you "love polio." And if Chrisman wants to wave her freak flag, I'll support her right to do it — but I sure hope she got her husband's permission first.
Mary Elizabeth Williams
Mary Elizabeth Williams is a staff writer for Salon and the author of "A Series of Catastrophes & Miracles." MORE FROM Mary Elizabeth Williams • FOLLOW embeedub
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