Return Of The Native Son: Chapter Twenty-Two

The following morning, Lord Lipton’s carriage dropped Clarissa and Miss Wood off at the Sydney household to enjoy some time with the ladies of the house while Lord Sydney and Lord Lipton went together to Westminster in order to attend a meeting of the House of Lords. The women were certainly interested in political matters but their ability to witness what was going on in Parliament was, of course, limited. Lord Lipton promised them that they would be able to read his prepared remarks, at any rate, as well as what was reported in the loyal newspapers that they had subscriptions to. With this the ladies had to be content.

So how do ladies spend time when their menfolk are involved in serious political discussions that do not involve them? As is often the case, it depends on the ladies. Much has been said by some men at least that women are the same when it comes to what they do and assume that if men are engaged in political discussion with other men about large and momentous affairs that women content themselves with small talk and gossip, but in fairness it must be said that this is not necessarily the case. How women spend time depends in large part on which women one is talking about.

It must be admitted that none of the ladies were given to gossip. This was for various reasons. Lady Sydney was not given to gossip because she had strong religious scruples against it and viewed it as a terrible sin that should not indulged in. If she did not look down on other people who indulged in it, she managed to avoid engaging in it herself because of her belief system. If it was not precisely moral scruples of that sort which kept Sarah from gossiping, she was a person of friendly spirit who was inclined to think well of the people she was around and thus did not have a great deal of negativity to share with others. There are those people who are always envious and complaining about what others are doing in order to nag people into acting against them, but Sarah was not that sort of person, thankfully for everyone else around her. In her own personality Clarissa was not particularly different, but at the same time she simply did not know very many bad things about others to share. The people that she was around were, in general, good people and she did not have bad things to say about them. Miss Wood was not inclined to gossip either, not feeling it would be worthwhile to tear others down and add enemies to herself or make her someone that others did not enjoy being around.

Yet all of this is merely explaining the negatives of how these ladies spent their day. To say that they did not gossip is not being very informative after all. They could have been like some of those dull ladies who sit around all day with their pugs nodding phlegmatically at the vapid conversation that goes on around them. It would be grossly unfair to our ladies to say that any of them were like that. They were all people who could be praised for the pleasure of their company on the one hand as well as their diligence and energy when it came to doing that which was appropriate for their state in society.

For Miss Wood, days like this were an education as a governess. Though she was certainly a gentleman’s daughter, her family had been in straightened circumstances for long enough and seriously enough that the sense of security that she found in households like that of Lords Lipton and Sydney was something that she had a hard time understanding. But if she was going to be a part of this household for a decade, and likely have a permanent sort of connection to Lord Lipton as one of his people, it was likely that her own place would end up being as secure as his own household, since it was evident that Clarissa was in need of teaching but also very responsible to it and so there would be no question of her being thought of as unnecessary and unappreciated.

It was also remarkable to Miss Wood that the family of Lord Sydney was so friendly to people that were comparative strangers to themselves. If she did not know of the fact that Lord Sydney and Lord Lipton had long been in communication with each other through letters across the Atlantic, she could at least see that it was likely by design that the households themselves were becoming so closely connected together. It was something she viewed with considerable pleasure, as it would make her far less isolated and far better able to mix in circles so that she might not have to be a governess forever, but might be herself desirable as a wife. It was a thought that she tried to suppress at least visibly or audibly but a hope that she was willing to cling on to if it could possibly be fulfilled.

For Clarissa, the day was full of interest and adventure. If Miss Wood was forming a willingness to marry some widower when her time of being a governess was done and being able to stay within the range of being connected to the gentry, at the very least, Clarissa was discovering what it was like to have at least somewhat young people of similar interests to oneself. She had some natural music talent, to be sure, and it had been cultivated both by her late mother and by Miss Wood. In Sarah, though, Clarissa found someone who could be almost a peer, at the very least an older sister who could show how it was that an attention to practicing one’s singing and playing of musical instruments like the piano could serve as a means of being accepted and appreciated in social circumstances. Sarah took the time and trouble to teach some songs to Clarissa, who sang them readily enough and worked hard at playing them a bit, and was promised some fair copies of the sheet music of the airs that she had been working on so that she would be able to practice them herself. In finding herself under the observation of both Lady Sydney and Miss Wood, she found that the observation was friendly enough and that her ability to sing with a pleasant voice and a friendly and eager spirit was cheered on by her favorable audience. If it was true that some audiences may have considered themselves to be more discerning judges of music, most artistic people would rather find an appreciative audience than a discerning and critical one.

Some of the conversation that went on between Lady Sydney and Miss Wood involved her, but more indirectly, as the subject of what texts to use for education was discussed. Lady Sydney approved of the texts that Lady Wood was using and was planning on using to help teach and instruct Clarissa as being full of both good moral character and sound and worthwhile knowledge and a style that would help improve that of the girl herself when it came time not only to read but to write, not only to take in information but to apply it to real world conditions and to be at least better informed than some of the men that could be found in British society.

For Sarah, she appreciated the opportunity to get to know Clarissa better. Having read so many posts about her being a pretend foster daughter to Lord Lipton, she was not quite sure what kind of girl that she was. Much to her pleasure, she found Clarissa to be not unlike the way that she was when she had been younger, or at least the way that she remembered herself, and she found it easy to be gracious and charitable to someone with whose situation she could identify with. She had a sense of pleasure that Lord Lipton had been kind enough to take in one of his relations even though it had brought him under considerable scrutiny for so doing. She remembered that in a less politically contentious time that her foster parents had done the same thing, and she was very grateful and appreciative of the opportunity to have been raised by loving and stable and healthy parents and taken out of a very bad situation where her life may have been ruined. Instead, she had a lot to look forward to, and had been presented and thus was a part of British high society.

There are some people who may have been made conceited by the so sudden elevation of rank from a daughter of a troubled family to the foster daughter of a Viscount and one of the King’s most conspicuous servants, but Sarah was not herself that sort of person. It is certainly true that recent elevation was a common theme among these acquaintances. Clarissa had been elevated from the illegitimate daughter of a sugar merchant and some sort of actress or singer from London who had since died to the foster daughter of a Viscount. Sarah herself had undergone a similar elevation, although she was at least of legitimate birth, even if her birth family’s situation was deeply shameful. Miss Wood had been elevated from a homeless daughter of a dead gentleman whose heir had thrown her out of the house before her father’s body was cold. And, it must be remembered, Lord Sydney and Lord Lipton had both found themselves only recently elevated to the position of Viscount, Lord Lipton from being on the lower edges of what it meant to be a gentleman at all, if his account can be belived.

So it was that the ladies at Sydney House conducted themselves in a worthwhile fashion, using their experiences to deep the bonds of friendship and understanding among women. Women could be deeply isolated sometimes, and it was very worthwhile to know that one was a part of a larger group of people with whom one had knowledge of their ways and subjects to talk about and spend time working on and encouraging each other about. This was not something that one could always find in the remotest corners of Yorkshire where there were few suitable families in the neighborhood to spend that kind of time and intimacy with. She hoped, at least, that some could be found in the area, but here was a bond that everyone could relish in.

In conversation, in reflection, in the practice of singing and playing the harpsichord, and in educational planning the day went by enjoyed by all the ladies with a spirit of agreeableness that speaks well as to the character of the ladies involved. There were some women who affected the inability to spend time without quarreling, but such a thing could not be said about these women, all of whom had a great deal to offer to others and found a real pleasure in being around other worthwhile and polite and witty women. Where wit was combined with real knowledge and also real kindness it was something to practice and praise, and not something to censure. It must be admitted that the Sydney Household had within them such a group of women that was probably one of the few that could unite genuine wit and humor as well as kindness within the population of the time. I hope I may be permitted the indulgence of, in such a short work as this, spending so much time detailing conversations and the ordinary course of days that must seem to be mundane to readers of such exciting and varied lives as your own lives are.

But let us try to understand things from the perspective of these ladies. Although these ladies were, it must be admitted, far more privileged than most women in Great Britain, just as the women of Great Britain were far better off, even in these times, than the women of much of the world, it is not as if their lives were ideal. A wealthy woman could find herself dreadfully isolated from the outside world, surrounded by servants and subject to those who pretended to the status of gentleman in order to win their hearts in marriage and then squander their dowries and leave them without their proper love and affection and without the respect and esteem that they wished for themselves as much as any man did.

And it must be emphasized that none of these women were themselves connected with particularly bad men. Neither Lord Sydney or Lord Lipton kept mistresses or squandered the family wealth on booze, card games, or horseflesh. Neither of them locked up their womenfolk in the attic and shut them off from the outside world. None of them viewed the opinions of their various womenfolk or other members of the household with contempt or derision. There were, again, many houses where this sort of thing happened, but these women were fortunate enough to be connected to men who valued their wisdom and sought their counsel, but even such women in such a fortunate position as themselves still wanted more, more chances to interact with pleasant company, more awareness of what was going on of importance in society, and the like. And if women such as these felt isolated and alone in their sheltered existence, how much more common was dissatisfaction and a sense of quiet desperation the lot of far more women, whether they worked or stayed at home and served as ornamentation for gentry and aristocratic households.

At any rate, such women were fortunate that it was a slow day in Parliament with the Commons not in session and the election campaign going on, as their menfolk returned to them by the dinner hour, and so there was even more to talk about in terms of variety and significance, as well as a recounting of what they had been about while the men were involved in their own political affairs. It was surely more important than a bit of knitting of indifferent quality or the painting of screens, to be sure, and the women felt all of the significance of their efforts to help elevate the accomplishments of Clarissa as well as the preparation of Miss Sarah and perhaps Miss Wood as well for future matrimony. Even if nothing was said about the subject, it was certainly a thought that was in the air.

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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