Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Review: 1900 House

The basic idea of 1900 House is to see what happens when a middle class British family from 1999 is transported back in time to live using the technology and furnishings available to a rising middle class British family in 1900. The family lived in the house for three months and the series is only four episodes long. I found them all quite enjoyable.

The series includes the expected bits about struggling without modern technology, standards of cleanliness, and etc. Essentially all of the Woman of the House's time is spent cleaning and cooking--at least until a maid was hired. I enjoyed the show, and appreciated how it illuminated the past in ways I haven't considered:the darkness, the mind-numbing nature of household chairs, the physical closeness of people.

One thing that was lacking (and I'm not sure how to change this, really), was a better sense of the mentality of the times. The family physically was living a 1900 life style, but mentally they very much still had their 1999 values (giving those up would be both very difficult, and rightfully repulsive to our sensibilities). I think that trying to understand the social and cultural norms of a time is one of the more intriguing aspects of this type of history. The narrator and series experts would point out strong social transgressions by the family, such as taking pictures of people in their underwear (which came down to the ankles) or answering the door in the morning before being fully dressed. And the social status of women was a large part of the series. But I wonder if more could have been done?

The family received letters from experts describing how to do household activities and included things such as recipes, and suggestions for making shampoo and other items. It may have been interesting if these letters included some sort of "moral instruction" as well. It is comparably easy to understand what it would be like to go back in time in terms of physical amenities, but I find the social conscience aspect much more difficult to relate to. The relationship with the maid was the most interesting in this regard, but I wonder what would happen if one delved deeper into this aspect. Of course, I have no idea how to do that with real people living real lives and end up with an entertaining show.

This difficulty illustrates just how profound such changes have been. The series did make some points about the relationship between physical advances--cleaning equipment, ability to hire maids leading to more free time--and the increasing roles for women in society. This is a subject I am interested in learning more about.

I recommend this series to anyone interested in Victorian times, or just how much things have changed in our daily lives over the past 100 years.

No comments:

Post a Comment