So I wrote more posts than I expected about the book If Walls Could Talk. Why do I find the topic so compelling?
Honestly, I find the topics of the book compelling for many of the same reasons the writer, Lucy Worsley, does.
Most history education does not focus on how people lived their lives in their homes, so most of us lack a historical context for much that we find and do in our homes. Thus, we sometimes underestimate or overestimate how unusual our home habits are. Take, for example, the ‘trend’ of people eating alone, or at least in very small groups. Most of what I read/hear about eating alone in contemporary media, whether it’s a lamentation that people are eating alone so often, or a defence of eating alone, saying it’s not such a bad thing, assumes that this is a new behavior. By contrast, Worsley says:
The beginning of the end of the communal meal can be seen much earlier than the seventeenth-century handover of the cooking from men to women in the grandest houses. It can be placed right back in the fourteenth century. (Or at least that’s when the rhetoric began. It’s amazing that people are still complaining about this to this very day: when they criticise families for eating in front of the television, they’re echoing sentiments which have been heard for six hundred years.)
I imagine that if it were common knowledge that these arguments about eating alone / in privacy were so old, the way people discuss it today would probably be different (and more interesting).
And near the very end of the book, Lucy Worsley says “Throughout all the periods of history, people have thought their own age wildly novel, deeply violent and to be sinking into the utmost depravity; likely, in short, to herald the end of the world.” I can feel this sometimes when I read Victorian novels, especially when they refer to the ‘nineteenth century’ as being an ultra-modern era where the appearance of anything ‘old-fashioned’ would be shocking while society was more depraved than ever before. Continue reading