Letters from an Edwardian Lady is the first book in my new historical fiction series, Hands Across Time and tells the story of Ernestine, the editor of a magazine for Girls and Young Ladies. She receives a strange letter, addressed to her advice column and,slightly against her better judgement, she answers it. There follows the story of an unusual and heartfelt friendship between two women, separated by time but held together by the bonds they form through their letters.
Letters from an Edwardian Lady is available on Amazon in the UK and the US as an ebook, and will shortly be released as a paperback.
The next book in the series, A Lady's War, will be featured in my next blog post.
Here is the first part of the book, where Ernestine and Penelope begin their journey together. As usual, feel free to enjoy these chapters, but please respect my copyright!
Letters from an Edwardian Lady
Hands Across Time
A Treasury for Girls and Young Ladies
A note about our advice column. Miss. E. Winters is the editor of this magazine and, as such, is a lady of some experience and organisation. Miss. Winters welcomes enquiries and requests from her readers: all advice given is with the best of intentions and consideration for your well-being, but may not be what you would wish to hear!
Please address your letters to the offices of this magazine in Hartlepool Street, making sure you write clearly and without undue hyperbole. As of January, 1905, we are unable to accept parcels at the offices, so do be aware that all correspondence must be in letter form.
Dear Miss Winters,
I saw your name and address in one of the old books my Grandma left me. I was sorting through, trying to take my mind off everything and there it was. I didn’t know you had agony aunts back then! Anyway, I’m thinking it might help to write a letter. I know it’s mad, writing to somebody who doesn’t exist! Oh well, I might as well have a go.
First off, I’m really getting sick of not knowing when my mother is going to turn up and be doing the housework. I never asked her to come and do it (well, I did, but that was ages ago and I was busy at work). She’ll be here when I get home from work and sometimes she turns up when I’m just setting off out the door. I wonder if she spends her whole day here! And then there’s the notes: don’t use bleach down your toilet, think of septic tank: don’t stand on back steps for a bit, edges painted: make sure you put ornaments back on shelf, don’t leave out to get broken. It’s like being five!
I want some privacy! I’ve lived on my own since I was twenty one, so nearly three years and I think I know how to do everything by now. How many women work and have their own places, without worrying about someone coming in at exactly the wrong moment?
Ah, what’s the use anyway? Nobody’s going to read this letter and I wish I had a real friend to talk to about it all, somebody who’d be on my side, you know? I haven’t since Sue moved down country ages ago, it just isn’t the same when you have to make do with email.
So, bye to you, Miss Winter. I expect even if you could answer, you’d not understand. What would a woman from the 1900s know about my life?
Yours sincerely (very sincerely, haha),
My dear young woman,
I do not know how to answer you, though I feel I must reply as you are obviously in some great distress and in need of a friend. I want you to know, before I begin, that I see no reason to mark your letter so oddly or to sink into such strange and low vocabulary. Please, if we correspond again, refrain from these impulses and you will be the better for it.
To your main concern, as I see it: your relationship with your mother. I confess, my dear, I am at something of a loss here. If I have read your missive correctly, you have your own home and are of independent means but have little time to achieve those womanly duties of the home for which we should have most attention? If that is the case, I cannot see why you object to your mother giving you her well-meant, kindly assistance in the running of your household. I am assuming, as she does not live with you, that she must have her own home to organise and keep straight? She is either neglecting it for your benefit or has a trustworthy maid or housekeeper who is taking care of her own.
Do not underestimate the help we can glean from our older relatives, especially our mothers. All the tribulations we see as so important have also passed through their hands, even though we view our own troubles as monumental and wholly singular. You can be assured that whatever you are feeling and thinking now, your mother has considered it also and come through to be the woman she is today. Do you not see what a boon it is to have that wealth of experience at your fingertips?
Perhaps instead of croaking about your lack of privacy and need to do things for yourself, you could appreciate this elderly woman giving her time and limited energy to your home, so that it might be a comforting place for you to return each day. Perhaps she knows how much, in her youth, she would have loved to live more independently and not have so many household cares to keep her? Or perhaps she wishes to show you the fulfilment of running a home successfully? At present, she appears to be failing on both counts but I strongly suspect this failure is more your doing than hers.
Open your heart as well as your ears and take time to listen. Time, my dear, not a few minutes as you undo the combs from your hair or remove your daywear. Proper time, spent listening to what she has to say, showing her that she matters and so her confidences also matter.
One more little note: You sign your name Penny, as if we were known to one another. Please use your full name of Penelope. It is a lovely name, associated with a beautiful and faithful woman. Do not abuse it unnecessarily, be aware of how you are perceived when you shorten a good name. If you present yourself as less than you can be, then be sure others will do the same.
E. Winters (Miss)
Amanda J Harrington
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