BRIDGET WHELAN writer

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Despair and Dinner Parties ADVICE from the 1830s

Mrs Finnegan’s Chronicles: the Celebrated Authority in affairs of the HEART and HOUSEHOLD MANAGEMENT

My door is always open for advice…

I have lately taken up residence as Housekeeper at The Regency Town House in West Brighton and been given a ROOM OF SWEET DELIGHT as the etching above reveals. In short I am a happy woman: the sun is shining on Brunswick Square, King William is hale and hearty and if I stand on a chair in my room I do believe I can see the sea. 
I am also something else. I can announce that Catheen Finnegan, sometime housekeeper, sometime companion, long time widow has taken on the mantle of advice-giver to the gentry and confidante to the forlorn.
It was a role I was born to play. Already I have two letters seeking my assistance….

I am a delicate young woman from a good family of a profoundly sensitive nature. Friends complain that I am not a cheerful companion and I do confess to fits of melancholy when contemplating the cares of the world. How can I be as frivolous as society demands?
Despairing and Deeply Soulful, Portslade Village

Oh I do pity you, for it is clear that you bear the weight of many burdens that the rest of the common herd – among whom I include myself – are able to throw off with a sigh. I have been given the following recipe which will help when you are in low spirits.

Take an oz of the seeds of resolution, mix well with the oil of good conscience; infuse into it a large spoonful of the salts of patience; distill very carefully a composing plant called ‘other’s woes’.

If it should fail, many find a remedy in walking among those who do not know where tomorrow’s dinner will come.
Do persevere, my dear. A frown is most aging.

Dinner is not a success in my house. There is no fault with the food, but the rest is not well done. A few tips I pray you.
Nervous Host, Brighton

I am glad to hear you have a dependable cook, that is the battle half won. In my last position as a companion to an elderly lady, the cook was drunk as a wheelbarrow most of the day.

However, even the best cook’s labour will be lost, if the Parlour-table be not ready for action, and the Eaters ready for the Eatables, which the least delay will IRREPARABLY INJURE. The cloth should be laid in the Parlour, and all the paraphernalia of the dinner-table COMPLETELY arranged, at least HALF AN HOUR before dinner-time.

An invitation to come a five o’clock seems to be generally understood to mean six. Make it very plain that when YOU say five o’clock you mean FIVE O’CLOCK EXACTLY. Dinner may be on the table within 5 minutes after, allowing this for the variation of watches. Better never than late.

I wonder if you have problems with family members who say they will come, but do not? Nothing can be more disobliging than a refusal to dinner which is not grounded on some very strong & avoidable cause. A certificate from a Sheriff’s office, a Doctor or AN UNDERTAKER are the only Pleas which are admissible.

Yours respectfully

MRS FINNEGAN

PS The cook at The Regency Town House is a man. I’ve heard of them being employed in the fancier houses, but I never thought I would be working with one. Truth to tell, I was quite terrified of meeting him, but he isn’t the least bit French and I can understand every word. His kitchen has a window in the ceiling. It is a modern wonder.

This is a regular feature created and written with Paul Couchman, The Regency Cook

2 comments on “Despair and Dinner Parties ADVICE from the 1830s

  1. Jennie
    March 28, 2020

    The Dear Abby of yesteryear. I love this!

  2. bridget whelan
    March 28, 2020

    Thank you!

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This entry was posted on March 26, 2020 by in Mrs Finnegen ADVICE from the 1830 and tagged , , , .
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