Monday, July 29, 2013

"Victorian Houses Have Tiny Closets"

We had this wild idea. First it was my wife's. Then I finally got "on board" with it . . . about the time she got cold feet and has seemed to back out. The idea?  Moving.

This time we were only thinking about moving into town.  Why not?  Our kids are grown and now moved out. We don't need our big chalet anymore.

We looked at one home that was surprisingly old.  I actually fell in love with it. Not only did it have a glorious view of the mountains and sea, but it had lots of character. The reason it had so much character was that it is one of the oldest houses on our island . . . over 100 years old. So it was built when this was a little fishing out-post.

But one thing about the house was a deal-breaker for Denise . . . the closets were very small.  The realtor remarked, "Of course, all Victorian era houses have tiny closets."

That is true and I've thought a lot about it since, probably more so than anyone should.

All art forms are visual expressions of a philosophy, usually started somewhere else in the culture.  Architecture is no different, but maybe a little slower to adapt because it also serves a real-life function, obeying the laws of physics, load bearing and shelter from weather.

Part of the reason that Victorian homes had small closets was that they had less clothes than our present consumer-society. They also made more use of free-standing wardrobes.

The Victorian age was that time when the Second Great Awakening in England and the US had gone to seed as malignant respectability. It was vital that you appeared to be the perfect example of all that is Christian. It was during the closing days of the Victorian age that Eric Liddell was a Olympian . . . surely giving up a gold metal because the race was held on a Sunday and he refused to run because it was the Sabbath.  Of course that story was told in the Chariots of Fire movie, which was the darling movie of my early evangelical days (and it was a strange bedfellow as the actor who played the Christian hero was an out-spoken gay activist who died from AIDS and it was during the time the evangelicals hated all gays). But looking back, I really think the issue for the real Liddell was more of one of appearing respectable than some great deed for God. It was the age that good Christian homes became museums of goodness . . . but possibly wax museums at best. But I digress.

I've owned a couple of Victorian homes and they do have character because they are for show. But virtually all of these homes have one narrow door on the second floor, that looks like a linen closet, but when you open it, it leads up a steep set of stairs, sometimes to a second, locked door, and to a huge attic. In both of my homes I had plans of turning the attic into a giant bedroom or family room . . . but never had the time or money.

In the Victorian days, those attics, unlike closets, were rarely visited.  At least they were locked if not nailed shut. Of course as written about in countless of children's stories, where the children wonder up into that dark attic, full of steamer trunks, and discover some great mystery like a Jumanji board game.

But the attics really were full of mystery . . . hidden away from all view.  These were the ghosts of broken humans, who were downstairs in their button up shirts and tiny-waisted dresses and pale skinned faces living in a world of make-believe perfection.

In those dusty steamer trunks were things like old bottles of whisky, some empty, some half full, where father came late at night to tame the alcoholic demons within his belly.

In one you might find the box of pink ribbons that mom wore in her hair when she was a little girl and who grandfather carefully would untie and let fall to the floor as he prepared to molest his little girl decades ago.  Mother never wanted to see them again and would scream in horror and swoon to the floor if her little girl had discovered them and came down the attic stairs with them in her  hair but words unspoken.  But still she kept them . . . up in the old trunk as if giving them up would have been an act of disrespect to her father . . . now aged.  She still will kiss him on the cheek at the home where he stat on the porch, slumped down in his wooden wheeled chair as her kids watched on and he would look up with red-sagging eyes and smile and wink at his daughter,"my little butterfly." She never became the woman that she was meant to be because she had to loose the ability to feel.

Up between the trunks is where the boy and his friend, all alone, would experiment with their exposed bodies trying to understand what they were feeling.

In another trunk might be red and blue silk scarfs tied in Gordain knots so tight  that no mortal could untie. They once belonged to the father's mother.  Her, un-named, narcissistic personality had donned herself in robes and gowns and glitter and her own son became inanimate in her eyes . . . and he hated her for it. But he didn't know he hated her. How can a son hate is mother?  How can a human be infatuated with themselves? Grief too convoluted for words . . . so, as a man he only felt comforted in numbing arms of he evaporate of barley, and oats.

But the attic doors were closed and locked . . . sometimes nailed shut, while the music played downstairs and they were all respectable.


Anonymous said...

Wow. Your writing on this has alot of pain. You seem to be expressing the experiences of family and friends
and maybe yourself? in childhood and later. I have just finished a book by Peter Rollins, in which he expresses the very unpopular notion in Christian circles that our world is filled with beauty.....and horror, and that religion has become the modern attempt to rid ourselves of the horror, even if we have to create a God who can do that. Best wishes.

j. Michael Jones said...

Actually this isn't so much about my pain . . . I don't think I have that much. All day long I deal with people who are in pain, who have been abused and etc.

My father was the "Attic Alcoholic" but he was a good dad. He drank because he barely survived WWII.

But I've observed this pattern where so much dysfunction nature is pushed underground. I'm optimistic as I see the post-Christian (speaking culturally not post-real Christianity)is more open than the Victorian through the 1950s "Christian" age.