A Blog for Modern Traditionalists

Month: December 2012

The Nostalgic Library: If Walls Could Talk

The Nostalgic Library: If Walls Could Talk

Title: If Walls Could Talk

Author: Lucy Worsley

Publisher: Faber and Faber

I’ve just finished reading what may well be the most entertaining history book ever. It doesn’t make you go hunting through heaps of dry information for the good bits (the “good bits” being things like sex, toilet talk and personal hygiene). It’s all good bits.

If Walls Could Talk: An Intimate History of the Home brazenly steps through the front doors of yore and blasts an all-illuminating spotlight on all of the ultra personal details you’ve always wondered about as you watched an Emma Thompson costume drama. Like, how bad does she smell? Where does she go to the bathroom? And how does she deal with her period?

(At least, I wonder these things. Am I a freak?)

The book is divided into four sections: the bedroom, the bathroom, the living room and the kitchen. Within each lies a broad variety of subsections, for instance “venereal disease,” “a history of toilet paper,” “sitting comfortably” and “the pungent power of pongs.”

The entire book is a delight, and deals with the aspects of history we can all relate to. I’ve never fought in a war or governed a nation, but I’ve worn underwear, doggone it! Plus, Lucy writes to entertain as well as inform, which is always appreciated.

Despite my morbid curiosity about death and my obvious preoccupation with all things defecation (did I really just say that?), I actually found myself most intrigued by the section on sleep. I had never heard about the theory of “the first sleep” and “the second sleep” – a nighttime pattern thought to be adopted by people in pre-industrial times who couldn’t afford candles to see them through the long winter nights, which lasted as long as 14 hours in England. Between the two sleeps, there would be a period of wakefulness during which people might chat, have sex, or even do a few chores in the pitch black.

Anyway, I don’t want to reveal all of Lucy’s excellent tidbits in this post, so I’ll just leave you with this little video of hers. Before I do, however, I want to declare that If Walls Could Talk has tempered some of my longing for “the olden days,” particularly the 200-year period in which bathing was considered unhealthy.