Friday, January 25, 2013

October 17, 1858

As an encore I want to share a brief extract from a letter Mrs. Browning wrote to her sister Arabel. She is writing from Paris. It gives a glimpse of daily life with the Browning family as Mrs. B goes shopping with her eight year old son and her maid Annunciata.  Browning's sister Sarianna also makes a guest appearance. I get a kick out of this because it reflects her light touch and her frustration with her husband's frugality:

"Let me see what I have to tell you of our doings, less sad than that. In the first place-My bonnet came home very, very pretty--but as there was something I wanted changed, I went the next morning to have it done & to pay for it, Annunciata & Peni going with me,--& Robert gave me two napoleons for the purpose. On our arrival at the Modiste's,...purse gone!-Dropped in the street! Imagine the agreeable surprise!- So I had to retrace my steps in a deep state of humiliation-Penini full of compassion, proposed my waiting in a shop, while he ran on to 'tell Papa & get it over' -- & when I objected that 'we must confess our own sins',..'no,' said he, 'I won't let you- I'll be the priest this time!' So, off he ran full speed, & by the time I reached the door of our apartment, there was Robert perfectly magnanimous & forgiving, coming to pity & bring more money. It was very, very good of him- Still, as I say, he is human, & I expect to be reminded of it three times a day to the Day of Judgement."

We can see who holds the purse stings--and who doesn't! Of course, I looked these coins up on Wiki and the gold napoleons came in 20 and 40 franc denominations. And yes, at that time, the French were using real gold as currency. Apparently Pen was expecting the worst. But read on mon chere!

"Since then, I have been out buying last purchases, generally under guardianship-Twice, Sarianna arrived just as I was going out, & so accompanied me. Once, Robert went himself- I have bought a warm petticoat-'English'--red & black--twelve francs, & a pretty parasol, ten francs. Robert has bought an artist's manikin--& an opera glass, single, of great power for 30 francs-"

Robert went on a splurge there! As for the manikin and opera glass: so much for Mr. Frugality. And she was the one who needed guardianship! The difference being: she didn't care what he spent-she didn't care about money.

I don't know about you, but I am very interested in this red and black 'English' petticoat. That is a fairly radical color combination. Something else of note, she seems in pretty robust health (for her) in 1858, walking about Paris in the middle of October. I am guessing that the cool weather hadn't set in yet.

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