This week we bring you another series of letters between the Wickham and Thornton households. These most recent finds were the source of much mirth to the Wickham biographer, but the Thornton heirs are decrying them as falsified. There is a pending lawsuit on the matter, so we urge the reader to enjoy these missives before the court orders them taken down.
-Catherine Curzon and Nicole Clarkston
And to read of the Wickham family’s first trip to Milton, click Here
Dear Mrs Wickham,
I thank you most sincerely for your kind advice and offers to assist me in matters of fashion. As you so eloquently stated, “The lady with the tallest headdress, widest hoops, and highest instep is the most easily seen in the ballroom.”
I cannot deny that I have been reluctantly brought to the fore of Milton’s social gatherings by my marriage, and therefore my appearance at such events is now of greater import. I find myself rather uncomfortable with the notion of attracting the most notice in the ballroom. I should much prefer to go modestly about my own affairs, and if others care to notice me, let it be for my words and character. I pray you will not take offence at my personal style- while I certainly envy your ability to captivate a whole room, I dare not attempt such public flamboyance myself.
There is, however, a matter of some delicacy in which I find myself in great need of your more artful tastes. It relates- I blush to confess- to my more private attire. I had never considered that a man might venture to opine upon the subject of his wife’s bed-clothes, but so my husband has done. To put it succinctly, he declared my accustomed raiment akin to a flour sack, and typically endeavours to divest me of the offending articles at once.
And so, Mrs Wickham, I fear I write you out of some wifely desperation and- dare I say it- self-preservation! I am certain that my cousin Mrs Lennox and my sister-in-law Mrs Watson must have experienced similar alterations to their nocturnal wardrobe upon their marriage, but my courage fails me at the prospect of inquiring where they obtained such articles. I have not the brazen confidence which would be required to broach the subject with any Milton dressmaker, and would never dare breathe a word of such matters to my own mother-in-law.
As you have proven so obliging on the subject of apparel, I turn to you. I pray you to advise me, as I know you to have daughters of your own. I should like to please my husband, but of course I do not desire to appear before him immodestly attired in a fashion after the French, or some other such indecency. I thank you in advance for your generous assistance, and beg of you, quite naturally, absolute discretion in the matter.
I remain yours,
My darling little one,
As wife to an attractive, accomplished and generous man of property, I have lived a life most blessed, and it is one’s duty to impart some of the knowledge one has learned with one’s younger counterpart. You, my dear, are most welcome to interrogate me on any matter you may wish, and I humbly am forced to admit that fashion is my muse, just as matters military will always give my husband cause to listen a little more keenly.
The notice one attracts in the ballroom cannot and must not be underestimated. Why, imagine the lady with hoops wide enough to contain her household – would you not notice her? Would you not ask, “who is that most marvellous creature, let me know her better?” Think, then, of how one might use one’s hoops as the introduction to one’s words and character just as an author might use the cover of his novel to entice the reader to peruse the pages. YOU are the pages, my dear, your hoops and feathers, lace and headdress, are the covers to your canon! Yet you will begin as you see fit, and I will do my best to assist you in your social navigation, as only a lady of my mature yet still, I think, youthful outlook, might.
There is no item in a lady’s intimate apparel of more import than that which she wears in her bed. Forgive my indelicacy – we are all sisters, are we not? – when I observe that a young husband keen to divest his bride of her night attire is not something to be dismissed so easily. However, how much more delightful for both if he divests his wife not of a flour sack, but of a silken robe, embroidered and embellished as Cleopatra herself might wish!
Fie on the French, one must embrace the finest eastern exoticism; I trust I shall not make you blush too deeply to say that one’s figurative trips to the more exotic lands with one’s own husband have always been most pleasing! Silk, lace, colour and plenty of ribbons to unfasten. These are the ingredients for a recipe that any husband will will find irresistibly tempting and he shall surely enjoy such a feast!
Think of me as your muse, my dear, and the lady who has trodden a silk-draped path so that she might share what she has learned with those delicate brides who will follow in her dainty footprints. My dressmaker has provided some sketches, which you will find herein, and I think you must agree that they are items which might make any lady feel like an empress, and any gentleman her willing servant, n’est pas?
I know you will adore the sketches, and I have commissioned my woman to make a little something for you that will, I trust, have you casting those flour sacks to the deserving flames. Once one has worn silk in her bed, one will never again wear linen!
Now, my dearest child, I must retrieve my husband from the fort of pillows in which he has barricaded himself to tell our grandchildren terrifying stories of his campaigns – he will have them howling for their nurse, I am sure!
Write to me soon, and tell me how my gift has been received by husband *and* wife…
Mrs Lydia Wickham
My Dear Mrs Wickham,
I wish to express my most heartfelt gratitude for your recent- and exceedingly generous- gift. The parcel you sent arrived yesterday, though most oddly it was delivered first to John’s office at the mill. You may understand that he was somewhat amused after opening it and discovering the error in delivery, but due to its contents, he chose to deliver it personally to the house.
I first address the lovely display of pillows and cushions. They are exquisite, and I have already displayed them proudly in our family drawing room. I think the elder Mrs Thornton surveys them with some suspicion- you must understand that her tastes are far more austere than your own! I believe that the delicious fragrance of your perfumes, which now wafts as a pleasing aroma throughout the house, shall soon bring her round.
In gratitude for your generous gift, I return one of my own. I fancy these samples of point-work, wrought by some novice seamstresses of my acquaintance, will not fail to delight even one of your tastes. The Boucher girls, in whom I have taken a particular interest, will fairly gush with pride once assured of your kindly condescension to receive their efforts with good grace.
And now I address me to the other items included in your parcel. Words fail me, Madam! I have sat full a quarter of an hour with pen in hand, attempting to express with what… surprise I first beheld them. When I spoke of John’s distaste for the flour sack, I understand that you took me at my solemn word.
There is one point of curiosity upon which I scarce dare to ask, but must in all fairness do so. The laced… bodice… Which is to be worn uppermost, the silken gathers or the stiff satin ruffles? Does one employ the services of a maid to don such an item of apparel? I cannot conceive of it! It scarcely accounts for even the most minimal level of modesty. Is there truly no additional layer which is to cover it?
Pray, forgive me Madam, for I am quite a stranger to such apparel. I was quite taken aback when I discovered the rather minimalist style of each item. Surely, thought I, good Mrs Wickham has included some direction for how to complete each partial garment, but my husband assured me that no further completion was expected or necessary. He, at least, was supremely pleased with your most generous gifts, Madam. I am afraid that I shall yet require some girding of my courage!
I do thank you most earnestly, and if my words sound somewhat shocked to your experienced ears, I pray you will excuse me as the modest daughter of a parson. I sincerely hope to further our acquaintance and to continue my fashionable adventures under your tutelage.
P.S. Just before I was to post this, Mr Thornton brought me a sealed note of thanks, which he begged me to include with my own. I am certain that he was as surprised as I by the contents of the parcel, but he is a gentleman, and is always quick to offer his gratitude to anyone to show me a kindness.
Dear Mrs Wickham,
I thank you for the kind interest you have taken in Mrs Thornton and the assistance you have offered in apparel suited to her new station. Enclosed please find a ten pound note. I pray you to commission your seamstresses with whatever other items my wife might find needful.
P.S. I like blue.
My darling girl,
You have quite left me in a state of distraction – how one howled with laughter when one read of the happy trip of my parcel to your husband’s place of business. It was not my intention for him to see the contents until you were resplendent in them, but I am sure it must have made a dull day all the brighter. I laughed so long and so loud that Mr Wickham had cause to enquire after my well being.
Of course, one is far, far too aware of the importance of keeping a fellow wife’s secret, and I would not be prevailed upon to tell, no matter which of his wiles he attempted. I know that you will not be shocked when I inform you that the evening transpired to be a most high spirited one – let nobody tell you that the passing years will dull one’s love for those metaphorical travels to the more exotic corners of the continent.
I sit here in my drawing room with your most generous gifts safe on the table before me, and already I have decided where this marvellous point work shall look its best. I intend to make a display of it, for I am engaged in furnishing a pastoral idyll at our Highgate house. One was inspired by the Petit Trianon, of course, for I believe that every lady should have a place in which she might recline and think of the beauty of this land of hours. To this end, I am fashioning a delightful room to capture that bucolic England, and the Boucher work will, I think, be the centrepiece of its decor.
Already George is so very enthused by the prospect, for he, like all gentlemen of a certain season, is possessed of a fondness for the gentle landscapes of his boyhood, and my homage to the Petit Trianon shall offer the most impressive vista over the countryside, I believe it shall be his favourite room in the house!
You very kindly commented on the fragrance with which my gift was bestowed and I believe that there has never been one like, and likely never will be again. I am most fortunate to have discovered a most unique perfume during one of my adventures in London, and I have never been without it. Indeed, not a week passes in which the exoticism of my perfume is not remarked upon. Yet it is exoticism of a different kind that concerns us, n’est pas?
I have elected not to answer your question on the matter of the silken gathers and the satin ruffles, for I find such questions are better resolved as a process of experimentation with one’s husband. I firmly believe that employing one’s maid in such matters would be a sorry waste of time which might be better used in the company of one’s spouse. Indeed, it does sound to me as though the good Mr Thornton has already undertaken the task of assisting you with no small measure of willingness, as any husband worth the title would naturally do. You are embarked on a most delightful journey, my dear, and have a most enjoyable road ahead of you.
I must bid you adieu for now, for George and I are visiting this evening. Of course, there are evenings on which one would rather entertain oneself and one’s husband at home but, alas, tonight one cannot. Next time, I must tell you of my new Egyptian jewels, I had quite forgotten! I had quite forgotten, also, to inform you of my sealed note for your husband, who I heartily approve of!
Farewell with a kiss on each cheek, as the continentals would do,
I am most delighted and not at all surprised to receive your thanks, and it is quite my pleasure as a lady of fashion to guide a new bride along a sometimes bewildering path! Indeed, I was that new bride myself once, and I had no one to guide me, for my husband was as innocent as I all those years ago, though he has since become a most enthusiastic adventurer.
My ladies have a rainbow of blues and inform me that your kind donation shall make them sew all the quicker. I believe you will both enjoy the fruits of their labours, sir, as you will soon be at liberty to discover.
My kindest regards
Mrs Lydia Wickham