Reading Edith Wharton
My family were in service.
They left home, and worked as maids, cooks.
We worked for people who were so wealthy, I meet them in the pages of Edith Wharton.
People who bought clothes in New York, holidayed in Florence.
People so secure, they would casually throw down a fur coat, and say
‘Would you like this?’
A silk blouse, ivory suit, all found their way to my relatives.
Great-Aunts wore dresses from Paris, finely made, scarcely worn, whose owners wearied of them, and chose instead to gift the maid.
My relatives greatly admired their employers and their way of life. They had come from real poverty,..a dirt floor, and the constant threat of tuberculosis. Stories survive in my family of children as young as ten being sent out to work.
Being transported from this to a new way of life, surrounded by the finer things, meant that my relatives began to copy their employers.
They copied the way they walked, spoke, dressed. This latter was easy as the maid will often fall heir to the entire wardrobe of their mistress. They also were given make-up and perfume.
My family also received an education. They knew about Antiques because they dusted them. They knew about silver because they polished it. They knew about couture because they washed and ironed it.
But we lost our way, forgot our roots, who we really were, and we were never meant to be this.
It is time we found out who we are, it is time we went home.