BRIDGET WHELAN writer

for writers and readers….

When You Can’t choose Between Two Men call for Brighton’s Regency Housekeeper…

When you have a problem who are you going to ask for help?
For Letitia and Farmer Giles it had to be
Mrs Finnegan, the celebrated housekeeper at THE REGENCY TOWN HOUSE 

Whatever shall I do?
Two very respectable gentlemen have asked for my hand in marriage.
Tarquin is kind and patient and heir to a substantial estate. He does have a receding hairline though.
Bartholomew is handsome with a dash of poetry in his nature which I believe can be tamed. He already owns a London town house.
Will you help me choose?
Letitia of Littlehampton

Mrs Finnegan replies

Take up your QUILL and acquire two sheets of paper. On one write Tarquin and on the other Bartholomew. Then note down 10 VIRTUES that each of the gentlemen possess. Next mark down 10, not vices exactly, (I am sure neither have so many) perhaps DISADVANTAGES is the better word. Make sure each suitor has a FULL list of 20 adjectives beneath their name.
That is a morning’s work.
After partaking of a LIGHT luncheon return to your writing table.
READ BACK what you have written. Burn one sheet.
You have your answer and there is still time to go for a drive.

A thought strikes me though:
Where EXACTLY in London is the Town House?


Strictly fashionable neighbourhoods may be divided into

EXCLUSIVE
ULTRA-FASHIONABLE
FASHIONABLE
QUASI-FASHIONABLE
HIGH GENTEEL
LOW GENTEEL
EQUIVOCAL

I hear tell that the more northerly parts of Marylebone and the new streets and squares to the northward of Hyde Park are BEST avoided.
I am also GIVEN to understand that Pimlico is fatal to fashionable expectations. Country PEOPLE – such as yourself – sometimes form the erroneous opinion that if they live in the neighbourhood of a royal palace, they cannot go wrong. They can.
I should also add that streets ABOUNDING with brass plates of dentists and doctors are BEST eschewed and let us HOPE that the Town House is not in a neighbourhood that has public-houses at the corners.

My advice: discover the address of the Town House before making a decision.

ANOTHER thought:
Husband Taming is hard work and rarely ENTIRELY satisfactory.

Mother is constant in her abuse and fault-finding.
Father died two years ago and my wife and I have taken over the farm. I know this can be hard on widows, but she has been this way all my life. I try to be a good son and my wife is a sweet-tempered woman.
Mother has the best bedroom, is served first at meals and has a seat by the fire. My sisters will not visit any more and she has driven away farm hands and serving girls with her tongue.
The children fear her.
Farmer Giles of Falmer

Mrs Finnegan replies:

Your mother was BORN cross and you cannot make her happy.
All you can do is limit the harm she DOES to you and yours.

  • Reveal as little as possible about what is happening on the FARM or in your life – she uses information like a WHALER uses a HARPOON.
  • Nothing important should be SAID at meal times when she is present
  • Only ever make light conversation about the WEATHER, the parson’s sermon etc
  • Be polite
  • NEVER try to reason with her.
  • When she says anything hurtful do not reply. Do not show your hurt. INSTEAD leave the room.
  • Get your wife and children to do the same.
  • Light a fire in her bedroom. Make it COMFORTABLE but never say you wish she would spend more time there.

In addition BUY every moment of peace you can.
Invite the parson or his curate (or anyone really) to have dinner with your mother as often as they are willing to come. Make it a good dinner and serve them in the parlour while you and the family EAT in the kitchen. Supply wine.

And hard though this is for you, never EVER forget your poor wife is bearing the BRUNT of your mother’s temper.

PS

I said I would have A WORD with Susan, the lady’s maid with a mysterious past, now that much of the mystery has gone and in my OWN arms I held the little bundle of curls, rosy cheeks and DAMP nose that is her baby daughter.

But, fear not, dear reader, I have given CONCETRATED consideration as to how I would proceed for there is no point in shilly-shallying around the BUSH of knowledge. What I know could WRECK the girl’s reputation, BUTCHER her chance of earning a living in a decent occupation and send her spiralling downward on a path leading to the workhouse or to the depths of SHAME AND debauchery.

But first I HAPPENED to glance at the Mistress’ diary. It was open, don’t you know, left in her bedroom, only covered by a shawl, hand mirror and brush, a book, two magazines and an eiderdown….

I gave Mrs Guppy’s purple silk (I refuse to call it mine) to Susan who received it graciously and said she had contacts with the theatre and that they would very much appreciate it.
I am not at all sure that I want to be connected to the theatre even at a distance since any inference of impropriety could do so much harm to my reputation.
I was tempted to snatch the silk back from the girl but didn’t. I want to wheedle out of her what is going on inside my daughter’s head, so I smiled so hard it hurt.

You surely remember all the fuss there was about the extraordinary PURPLE dress that Mrs Hankey ordered. If only the memory would fade from my own mind! Anyway, that dress is no more – in fact it never was – but this is a TELLING incident is it not? Of course it reveals altogether TOO MUCH ABOUT Mrs H but none of us were in the dark about HER character, were we?

What it says to me is that Susan, for all her FINE manners and intricate ways with hair – when she corkscrews a curl it stays corkscrewed – is an INNOCENT.
Yes, I can say that about an unwed mother and I won’t stand to be CONTRADICTED. The resistance of a woman to male ploys is not always PROOF of her virtue, but more frequently of her experience and if you don’t know what I mean well bless you, too.
For proof, I offer that fact that I would no MORE admit to Mrs Hankey that I had THEATRCAL CONNECTIONS than I would own up to having fleas while borrowing her silk sheets in her absence.
(Only to test them you understand and yes, they worked remarkably well and yes, I was being humorous about the fleas.)
My POINT is there are things best UNSAID, but THAT is something I don’t believe Susan fully GRASPS.
When we talk I must be gently gracious in my manner I decided, DEFTLY diplomatic in the way I introduce the subject, prudently PROVIDENT in my judgement – in a word I MUST summon forth all my natural qualities and be the best MRS FINNEGAN I can be.
So…it was rather unfortunate Susan heard about my visit to the North Laine house before I managed to TIP toe up to the subject.
We met each other in the basement corridor.
Why? she asked. WHY?
I pulled her into my room. The tea I had planned and the dainty Portarlington biscuits I was going to bake (if the new cook allowed me near the kitchen) could not now happen.

She faced me as brave as a TABBY cat.

I’d like to think I approached this difficult situation with dignity

We talked and I draw a veil over what was said. NOT every matter is a fit subject for public edification.

I can tell you, however, that TEARS were shed and Miss Susan was not entirely dry eyed HERSELF.

Then came the torturous question of who the father might be….
I have NO DOUBT regular readers are already RACING ahead. Earlier in the YEAR it was thought, suggested, whispered that Mrs Hankey’s eldest son was responsible and that the ABANDONED mother was intent on exposure and SCANDAL. The identity of the mother was unknown but…
The QUESTION had to be asked, did it not?
But how?
Mrs Hankey, I began…
That was enough. The floodgates OPENED.

Dear reader, Mrs Hankey knows ABOUT the baby.
The coral and silver teething ring Susan dropped some weeks ago? – a gift from Mrs Hankey.
The VERY regular afternoon off – approved by Mrs Hankey.

ONLY, Susan said, only of late Mrs Hankey has become more demanding, wanting to know the intimate DETAILS of her daughter’s HEART
Susan is bombarded with questions
What does Miss Martha say? Where does she go? Who does she meet? Has she mentioned love, assignations, letters…?

I’m no SPY, said Susan getting up to leave. Perhaps you will tell her that. Mrs Hankey needs to KNOW that she cannot PUSH me too far.
Otherwise…The sentence drifted in the autumnal air. Otherwise the result will not be very pretty.

And that’s where it was left.

Except Susan let loose a FINAL thunderbolt as she left.

She’s earning £10 a year more than me.

£10.

£10.

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

Want to discover more about SUSAN?

Click HERE for the full back story

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This entry was posted on August 31, 2021 by in Mrs Finnegen ADVICE from the 1830 and tagged , , , .
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