So, there’s a lady in Washington state living as a Victorian, and everybody on the Internet hates her except for me (and maybe my mom).
Last week, Sarah Chrisman posted an article on Vox titled I love the Victorian era. So I decided to live in it. In it, she chronicles her unusual lifestyle choices and why she made them. From her 130-year-old hairbrush to her boar-bristle toothbrush, Chrisman tries to replicate the Victorian era as closely as possible. And now lots of people kinda hate her for it.
A Jezebel article seems to sum up what the haters are thinking.
More: Old-fashioned baby names
Here’s the thing: Chrisman and her boyfriend have created this incredibly quirky and endearing lifestyle choice, and maybe if people understood it better, they’d see that. So we took the most valid concerns off the Internet and gave Chrisman a chance to address them in the hopes of educating people about her goals (and having them hate her less?). I sent a horseman out with a bunch of questions for her, and this is a condensed version of our interview:
How do you support yourself financially?
Gabriel works at a bike shop, and I’m a writer. Neither of these is a very lucrative profession, to put it mildly. Our household income is considerably below the average, and that’s a restriction we have to work within. So we set our priorities carefully, decide what’s really important for us and work from there. I sew my own clothes by hand. This takes a lot of time, but the only outlay of money is for fabric and little things like lace and buttons. It ends up costing far less than I think most other American women spend on clothes these days. On the other hand, sewing men’s clothing requires an entirely different set of skills. Gabriel’s clothes are made for him by a seamstress in Seattle. This costs more than most other bike shop employees spend on clothes but less than the average businessman, and by paying a local seamstress, we’re helping support small-scale American industry.
I always have a private chuckle with myself when people accuse us of being “privileged” or think we’re rich. When I was a small child, my family was on food stamps, and I remember times growing up when my mom had to borrow my piggy bank money to buy Corn Flakes. From a very young age, I learned how important it is to prioritize carefully and make wise choices when buying anything. Looking around our wonderful home now, I feel a poignant pride in how far I’ve come. It’s all been a result of very hard work and dedication.
You seem like a very independent woman — how do you reconcile that with the way women were regarded in the Victorian era?
Actually, Victorian women were just as diverse as their modern counterparts. (Incidentally, the same goes for Victorian men.) The individuals in any society — in any place or any time — exhibit the full spectrum of human attributes and inclinations. Some are shy, some are bold; some are witty, some are analytical; some are optimists, some are morose… The list is endless. Think of your own nationality. Now think of a cliché about that nationality. Do you fit into that cliché in every single way? Of course not! Human beings are far more than stereotypes. It’s just as wrong to say all people in a given time were one way than to say that all people in a given place are one way.
It seems the era was not kind to a lot of people. In fact, it was downright cruel. Please explain.
Again, be careful about blanket statements regarding any culture! There are parts of modern America that are terribly cruel, and injustice is sadly a part of the human condition. In 2015, there are horribly racist public figures, homophobes in positions of power and bigots of all sorts doing horrible things every day, here in America and all around the world. The comment “the Victorian era was downright cruel” slaps that description on Frederick Douglass and Florence Nightingale and millions upon millions of other people who don’t deserve it. It slanders their memory.
Do you control what people do when they visit you? As in, can they bring their modern items into your home?
We’re real people, not actors, and our house is a real home, not a stage set. Our friends are welcome to bring whatever they want. We respect their choices just as they respect ours. That’s what friendship is all about!
How do you square using technology for your site/communication?
Our touchstone is that when a Victorian option still exists, we use it. Remember, though, that it’s not just a question of individual pieces of technology, but also of the whole infrastructure that supported that technology. Communication is a good example. By the end of the 19th century, major cities could have five or more deliveries of physical mail every day — a situation that’s no longer the case. For even faster responses, there was the telegraph. Even if we bought a telegraph key and learned Morse code, it would do us no good since the entire infrastructure is gone. To use a modern analogy, it would be like a cellphone that would never have any possibility of getting a signal.
We know better than anyone that it would be ridiculous for two people to try reinstating industries that used to employ millions. We’re committed to making all this a sustainable lifestyle, and part of that is navigating the world as it is, not as we wish it to be. When an older method of doing something is just no longer an option anymore, we carefully discuss and debate what the closest modern equivalent would be and what fits in best with our philosophies.
We have the website because we want to educate people and encourage them to learn more, and websites are just the way modern people are accustomed to receiving that sort of outreach. If we tried handing out pamphlets instead, it wouldn’t be as successful, because it’s not the engagement people expect anymore.
What do you use for birth control?
That’s a very personal question, indeed! It brings up some things that get left out of most people’s history educations, though, so I’ll answer it. We use condoms, an innovation which has been around since ancient Egypt and certainly was widely available in the Victorian era. Sometimes the simplest solutions really are the best.
Do you take antibiotics or other medicine?
It’s extremely popular to pick on Victorian medicine, but in a hundred years, people will look back on the medical practices of today and criticize them just as strongly. We try to stay as healthy as we possibly can through our living choices, such as cycling, proper eating and paying close attention to what our bodies tell us. These are just good practices in any time!
We haven’t been very impressed with modern medicine in our few experiences with it. Neither of us has had health insurance for over a decade, and we’re certainly not alone in this. It’s a situation faced by many Americans, and we all do what we can.
We do avail ourselves of modern dentistry, although admittedly it is the one time when we wish we could go to the future instead of the past.
Do you vote?
I’m not a political animal by nature. Very few parties or candidates represent our values and priorities, and it is the rare issue that can get me at all worked up — or even interested. I have a lot of sympathy with the anti-suffragists, such as first lady Frances Cleveland, who emphasized the huge amount of power women held in many aspects of life, and feared that getting dragged down into the political mud would dramatically diminish the power they already exercised. First lady Cleveland and those of her movement felt that women were inherently morally superior to men and that by getting involved in the political arena, they could only jeopardize that status. Who can deny that politics is a dirty business?
Do you plan to keep this up forever?
It’s a lifestyle: how we love to live and how we love to learn — no more, no less. Learning isn’t something that’s only locked away in schools, and it shouldn’t end when we graduate from those schools.
This is a condensed version of the original interview.