Petticoated philosphers & virago queans

March 22, 2008

In 1911 the Union of Lancashire and Cheshire Institutes awarded a prize to one Florence Wild for proficiency in Dressmaking (Advanced Grade). The prize was Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management, is a family heirloom. It’s almost four inches thick and has various recipes of the take a dozen eggs and a quart of cream variety. The delight is the advice on keeping servants, handing the morning visits and a host of other reminders of a past age. It was given to my mother I think by my paternal grandfather) along with a clock when she was married. She used to tell stories of living in rural Essex in the 1950s where the expectations of social behaviour and class were a throw back to the 1920s or earlier. It is good to remind oneself from time to time of a age of class prejudice and servitude that we escaped if not without cost. So in that spirt some more extracts follow

The medical section includes advice on the treatment of gunshot wounds through the administration of Condy’s Fluid and the application of a cauterising iron to snake wounds. The advice on servants indicates that an income of £200 a year allows the employment of a young girl for rough work, while £1000 permits a Cook, housemaid and perhaps a man-servant. The daily task of a housemaid are scary and leave no time for moral danger (something of great concern in several sections). The Mistress of the house is admonished to rise early and open the pores of her skin with a cold bath. The essence can be found in this quote: The modest virgin, the prudent wife and the careful matron are much more serviceable in life than petticoated philosophers, blustering heroines, or virago queans. She who makes her husband and her children happy is a much greater character than ladies described in romances, whose whole occupation is to murder mankind with shafts from the quiver of their eyes.

I rather fancy meeting a virago quean or petticoated philosopher, they sound like interesting people.

virago |vəˈrägō; -ˈrā-|
noun ( pl. -gos or -goes)
a domineering, violent, or bad-tempered woman.
• archaic a woman of masculine strength or spirit; a female warrior.
ORIGIN Old English (used only as the name given by Adam to Eve, following the Vulgate), from Latin, ‘heroic woman, female warrior,’ from vir ‘man.’ The current sense dates from late Middle English

quean |kwēn|
noun archaic
an impudent or ill-behaved girl or woman.
• a prostitute.
ORIGIN Old English cwene [woman,] of Germanic origin; related to Dutch kween ‘barren cow,’ from an Indo-European root shared by Greek gunē ‘woman.’

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