Friday, January 9, 2009

Of Children and Peasants – Part III

Excerpt from “Anna Karenina Comes to America” by Leia Tolstaya*, Millerskaya Ltd., New York, 2009. For earlier installments please click on the keyword phrase “Of Children and Peasants”.

Levina woke up on the late side, dreaming about making a stir-fry, which she rarely did. It was such a deliciously pleasant dream that she had several times half-woken and purposely slipped back into it. Now she could hear the baby stirring, and she woke herself up for good.

There were 100 ways in which she could spend her day. She felt so fortunate. Although she had imposed on herself a schedule of sorts, including meals and naptimes, she could get her work done at her own leisure and still have some time for optional activities that also contributed to the household – reading the newspaper, playing games with the baby, doing a crossword, baking a cake.

Although she loved to read Victorian novels, she was often puzzled about how the nobility passed the time. They seemed to do no real work. Maids cleaned the house and nurses took care of the babies. They went visiting from house to house, to the opera, and hunting. If they were bored in their present location, they would up and leave for a season, sometimes imposing themselves on friends or family without notice. (And it was the host’s obligation to take care of these visitors, wanted or not, for as long as they wished to stay!)

While they would never seek to lower themselves to the position of a peasant, they also occasionally confessed to being jealous of their carefree ways, of the pure love between husband and wife, and the richness of the relationships they had with their children.

Not so in her time. People - rich, poor, and middle-class alike – all had full-time jobs with very little free time. Many people were unable to get a full eight hours sleep, or sit down for three square meals per day. Those who worked outside the house during the day might have others to care for their children part-time, but usually they took that back up upon their return home. Only the very wealthy had nannies caring for their children full-time; and some, although they could hire help, chose not to, because of their intense desire to be with the children as much as possible.

Considerate people would never think of just dropping in unannounced. Of course, there were no telephones back then. Now, the telephone seemed to be a constant intruder in her house. But at least they would give notice or make an appointment.

All except for one special time-traveling relative. At first, his sudden appearances had been a bit disconcerting. But his presence was always welcome, and she soon got used to his random visits. He always came ready to burst with thoughts he just had to share with her.

To be continued…

*Leia Tolstaya is a pen name for Elizabeth K. Miller, and as such her works fall under the same copyright.


Loren Christie said...

I do drop in on my mother unannounced. I guess that is one of the side effects of having children that is never outgrown!I like the way you are reflecting on the book and creating your own story in the process.

Elizabeth Kathryn Gerold-Miller said...

My husband also drops in on his mom unannounced - not with his whole family, though. I'm kind of jealous. My mom lives too far away to be able to do that!