EMILY ST. MARIE (1)
Introduction: This novel is about two young women separated by time, connected by a dollhouse. In this scene we are introduced to the parlor of the Archer residence in 1887, and the matriarch of the family Philomena Archer. She is the mother of Victoria, the protagonist of the story.
Excerpt with an Illustration (ink, watercolor, and gouache, 2021) from
The Old-Fashioned Dollhouse
The parlor was mother’s domain. Every square inch had something to marvel at. Gilt frames everywhere featured watercolors, oil paintings, silhouettes of the lovely Archer girls, and some embroideries and tapestries made by the women of the family going back generations. Nothing made mother happier than a newly framed embroidery, proof that her daughter would make a great wife in the future.
A red walnut China cabinet filled with heirloom Wedgewood plates were on display, with drawers of gleaming silverware tucked away. It gave Mrs. Archer great pleasure to know they were there shined and ready for entertaining, always. Mirrors with fluted frames were tucked in opportune places to reflect the flickering lights of the oil lamps. The room was dim as was common in London parlors in that decade, the light, like fresh air, had to struggle equally hard to find its way in. More often than not, both failed to make it.
The darkness of the room gave it a sober, serious, somnolent quality. Red velvet upholstered dark wood furniture seemed almost too nice to sit upon, but everything was relentlessly covered in the rich fabric, giving a vaguely regal feel to the room. “Seven generations old,” Mrs. Archer was fond of saying. Queen Victoria had never visited, of course, they weren’t even titled and sat solidly in the upper middle class of London society, but that fact would never touch or fade Mrs. Archer’s pride in her immaculate London townhouse.
The room was her pride and joy. If a chair or cushion looked the slightest bit shabby, Mrs. Archer had it taken to the upholsterers for immediate repair. She ran her household as efficiently as a voyage-hardened sea captain, and as luxuriously as she could possibly afford on her husband’s business revenues.
Despite being devoutly religious, Mrs. Archer believed fervently in beauty and appearance as cardinal virtues.
“Not to seek physical perfection to the best of one’s ability on earth is to do poor honor to Our Lord and Savior, who died so we could enjoy life in the here and the hereafter.” She would entreat anyone with her edifying words to whoever was nearby, and by proximity subject to her sermons. It was safer to pretend to listen, than to visibly ignore Philomena Archer, if you knew what was good for you. As a result, most servants kept out of her way whenever possible. It was easier to stay busy and occupied, since there was always plenty of work to do.
She would have made a great pagan wife in Roman times, knowing what sacrifice to offer what god at what temple on what day for the best fortune. She understood her husband to be nearer to God than her, and therefore she was not fit to judge him. This was convenient for him, as his approach to religion was much more inclined to pay indulgence after the fact.
“Why does the Catholic church not do indulgences anymore?” Mr. Archer could be found frequently complaining to his closest friend and associate Mr. Pipps. They could often be found at the end of the day in his study, sipping glasses of sherry, discussing politics, the war, or the London stock exchange. He viewed his glass of sherry as a sacred ritual performed out of sight of women and believed in stepping back and letting Philomena Archer do as she saw fit. “A good woman,” he’d mumble as she’d enforce her rule over the servants and girls. Even so, he would retreat to his study to read the paper and smoke cigars if he heard her nearby. Best to stay out of sight.
All Mrs. Archer wanted was to see her daughters happily and strategically married with children of their own. Anything less than that was not acceptable, and Mrs. Archer was very used to getting her own way.
Emily St. Marie has a bachelor's degree in Linguistics from the University of Alberta. She writes YA fiction, historical fiction, memoir, and short stories. Her first novel The Old-Fashioned Dollhouse is set to be completed in 2022; Twitter and Instagram links are, respectively, https://twitter.com/theolddollhouse and https://www.instagram.com/oldfashioneddollhouse/ . Her first book, Meet the Mermaid Babies, is an easy reader for young children available at Amazon.
Evocative and lyrically written!ReplyDelete