BRIDGET WHELAN writer

for writers and readers….

Brighton’s Regency Housekeeper is Instructed on How to Improve her Chronicles

Mrs Finnegan, housekeeper at THE REGENCY TOWN HOUSE , WELCOMES constructive criticism…

We wish to thank you for the letter sent out every Tuesday morning. My sister and I are eager readers.

That a woman of your station can put plume to paper to compose reasonably literate pieces is a surprise, but we are even more delighted when occasionally they almost equal those we could produce ourselves. Well done, Mrs Finnegan.

We do chortle furiously on Tuesdays. Your use of CAPITAL LETTERS is amiably erratic, your punctuation droll and your style quaint. We won’t mention your spelling because very often it is almost right. You will forgive us, however, for tittering about MIS-FOURTUNE in last week’s column because it really was so hugely enjoyable.  

You will, I am sure, not mind us putting together some words of instructive advice. As we were saying only yesterday to the Duchess, (she takes such an interest in any of our little projects) we see it as a duty to give guidance and encouragement to those who show promise.

Here are our notes which, if taken, will meliorate your efforts.

  1. Rely not so heavily on the people you meet everyday for your little stories. Use your imagination to conjure up a cast of characters, at least some of whom should be of a morally superior nature.
  2. Do not answer dull questions from mundane enquirers. The better sort of reader is unlikely to be enthralled by laundry. Be ambitious, Mrs Finnegan. 
  3. Do not demean yourself by offering your pickles for sale. Commerce is vulgar and has no place in literature.

Scribbling down OUR thoughts every week would be a delight, but regretfully we have decided against it. Orchids won’t arrange themselves and those panels of velvet crying out for a delicate touch with the paint brush will not be silenced.

One final word of advice. We are strong advocates of adequate amounts of rest. If you are in pursuit of a creative life, do not rush to get up after your afternoon nap. Indeed, avoid most forms of exertion, although a stroll in the sunshine (with parasol) is acceptable if not over done. What are your feelings about breakfasting in bed? We realise opinions are divided on the matter, but personally we are FOR IT.

One last thought: Mrs Hankey. She has to go, doesn’t she?

Yours affectionately,
Theodosia and Euphemia

Mrs Finnegan replies

Your condescension is appreciated and I will benefit greatly from your kindly tutelage. All the points raised will be carefully studied and I trust you will soon see an elevation in my various attainments. On the question of breakfast, however….

…I beg to draw your attention to the fact that wheresoever it is taken: indoors in a room dedicated to that purpose, in the garden, in the bed or on the bed I am the woman who
plans it
shops for it
cooks it
serves it
clears up after it
I am fortunate indeed if I also get to eat it.
If there is fire in the room it is because I made it. If there is water for washing it is because I drew it from the well and brought it up.
If you can see the sun shining through your bedroom window it is because I washed the glass and cleaned the curtains.
And not just me. An army of women in thousands of houses are doing the same and they get up each and every day to do it all again.
And if they are not in service, they are doing the same in their own homes without even a pittance of a wage, but with the same lack of recognition.

Do not take for granted that which is procured by the skill and HARD LABOUR of your sisters, all of whom have an interior creative life, although only A FEW have the time and energy to pursue it.
We REQUIRE the basics in order to survive – such as SUET PUDDING – but we also NEED the simple beauty of daisies.
Suet pudding and Daisies!

Yours in sisterhood
Mrs Finnegan

PS

This morning I received a most AFFECTING message from an anxious reader in the County Town of Lewes. Here it is in FULL.

Dear Mrs Finnegan
I am worried to learn Master Peregrine has asked you and Miss Martha to visit his home IN SECRET – and AFTER DARK. I fear greatly Master Peregrine might be planning to HIDE NOTHING from you
You two VIRTUOUS ladies must take GREATEST care. My advice is not to allow the gentleman to stand between you and his FRONT DOOR… or his BACK DOOR if that is how you entered his house. Be ready to whack him either with your (concealed) rolling pin.
I am not without envy, however. It is SOME YEARS since since any gentleman proposed a clandestine nocturnal visit to me in order to press his advantage. How I would relish the chance to WIELD my rolling pin once again! I am sure I could still do so WITH VIGOUR.
Yours
Mrs Browne of Lewes

I have NO NEED to fear a gentleman of Master P’s standing and upright character. Never has he given a moment’s cause for DISQUIET or aroused a BLUSH on a maiden’s cheek and yet…and yet…the world can be a hard and cruel place for women and BLAME so quickly falls on innocent heads if a gal finds herself in danger.

Mrs Browne (we have never met but I am fond of her already) is not the only one to be SHOCKED by the riding master’s unusual invitation.

I discovered dear Miss Martha on HER OWN in the library just after tea this afternoon – a rare occurrence as these days she is either in her room, allowing no admittance – “Not now, Mrs Finnegan, I pray you not now” – or in the company of Susan the new “ladies maid”. (Please note I put quotation marks around the the job title not because I have FORGOTTEN their proper use, but to indicate the QUESTION MARK that hangs over her presence in his house.)
WHO is Susan?
What is SHE?
WHITHER will she?
But I DIGRESS. I had a hurried five MINUTES to commune with Miss Martha about the poison pen letters, my AGONISED and sorely distressed mind, the nights without sleep, the days without hope, the pain in my left knee AND Master Peregrine’s invitation to us both to meet LATE AT NIGHT about a MATTER unspecified…
“It is not seemly,” says Miss M
“But it’s Master Peregrine, says I.
‘O how we women suffer for virtue’s sake…’ says she and sweeps out of the room while I am left to sweep inside the room.
(We have no parlour maid or under maid to do it, just as we have no cook to conjure up tasty meals or KITCHEN skivvy to clear up afterwards…I am at present a housekeeper with no household to manage. IN SHORT, I am THE MOST put upon woman in the world. Show me another and I’d shake her by the hand AND TELL HER to sit down.

I leave the library to its own devices to tidy Mrs Hankey’s room and discover – by sheer chance – her diary. Here is an entry written yesterday

With great difficulty I persuaded Martha to emerge from her room and take with me.  (I am ashamed to say I threatened her with tales of how I would relate her obduracy to her father who would then withhold her allowance) and at least take tea with me. She is constantly near to tears and I fear is still emotionally attached to that dreadful dancing master. I am at my wit’s end.  

Here’s the dreadful dancing master in case you’ve forgotten him. He lives with his even more dreadful mother next door to Master Peregrine.

Strange, how one’s own name leaps out from the PAGE.

 She is so far from considering anything other than her own fragile heart, that I simply cannot introduce another subject. What to do?
Maybe I should ask Mrs Finnegan. 
The very act of writing those words costs me much. The thought that I should ask Mrs Finnegan advice about how to treat my own daughter, when she has none! AT LEAST NONE THAT I KNOW OF! But she does seem to have a certain Irish way with her when talking about Martha, I will say that. 
And she was here with Martha when I was still in the country. I think they may have developed a certain closeness.  
I will simply have to ask her, perish the thought. 
  

None that she knows of? And me as respectable a widow that ever walked the streets of perfidious Brighton. I’d give her a slice of Irish temper and a side helping of an old Killarney insult but I’m too much a lady. And too much in a need of a job.

Certainly this present predicament is simply dreadful and depressing for everyone concerned, in the extreme. Susan really is of very little help since she has only recently been introduced into the household. At least her stomach is not swelling …. that should reassure me, but I am strangely not reassured and dread the day when and if Thomson Jr may choose to visit from London.

What an indelicate way of putting it! It’s not so far from the fishwives that Mrs Hankey was born. She’s hinted at as much already in her diary and a more inquisitive woman than I would dig further.
Now this last entry can only have been written in the last hour

I have this minute received a most welcome invitation for my mantlepiece.  
To dinner this time, with Lord Frobisher and his second wife Lizzy (we shared a governess for our children in Tunbridge). She was a good friend and a better social climber. It is gracious of her to remember me .   

The dinner is not until later in the summer, but it will be a very good place to enquire about a cook. Indeed I could possibly ask Lizzy about a cook BEFORE the dinner. In that way I could never be accused of poaching hers.  
And the matter of my own cook cannot wait until that long. I cannot forget what a vile tea Martha and I have just had.
The tea was good in that it is a matter of boiling water and adding the tea which I keep in my chest, but the cake was hard and yet undercooked at the same time. It tasted of nothing.
    

So, that’s why she looked like a bulldog swallowing a wasp when I cleared the tea things away. If making a decent cup was only a matter of introducing boiling water to a handful of leaves, sure everyone would be doing it. And they are NOT. There’s an art to it and a science. It starts with the way you draw the water from the well…
And as for the CAKE.
Well, she may have a point there…
I’ve put it out for the birds in Brunswick Square. The seagulls are keeping their distance, you’d think someone had put it into quarantine.

Mrs Finnegan presents me with such quandaries. 

She wouldn’t have half so much to write about if it wasn’t for me.
I have just left Miss Martha’s room.
When she rang for me, I was up those stairs two at a time – in my head – my actual pace was somewhat slower. We only had seconds on own before Susan came bustling in and I could hear Mrs H’s thread upon the stairs. We had to be quick.

“Tell Master Peregrine tomorrow night. Mother will be out. There’s a recital at St Andrew’s. I shall have a well-timed headache.” The dear girl took my hand in hers and pressed it. “After all, Finnegan we have to live, don’t we? We have to do that!”

Indeed we do!
But I think I shall take Mrs Browne’s advice and have a rolling pin about my person.

MRS FINNEGAN is a regular feature created and written by Bridget Whelan with Paul Couchman, The Regency Cook and a host of volunteers at The Regency Town House, readers and subscribers. This week a big thank you to Susan Homewood and Catherine Page

Keep Theodosia and Euphemia company and have every episode of Mrs Finnegan’s adventures delivered directly to your mail box FREE OF CHARGE
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This entry was posted on June 29, 2021 by in Mrs Finnegen ADVICE from the 1830 and tagged , , , .
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