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Vicki xx

Saturday, February 12, 2011

A Genteel Life.

I came across these three old photographs in an Op shop.

They had been tossed into an old tin, laying amongst bric-a-brac. How could I not take them home and sit them somewhere to be seen. I called them Elizabeth Mary, Harriet Jane and Ethel Francis. And so whenever I look at these women I  wonder about their lives. Were they born in Australia or England? Were they formally educated? Are they of the landed gentry?  Did they have lives of comfort and privilige with balls to attend, picnics by the river and painting lessons? Did they marry city men or graziers and manage their husbands farms as some women did? Did they have connections? What were their lives like? Did they have 10 children as was so often the case then? In the early 1800's the life expectancy for women was 45, in 1900 it was 59, did they live longer? Are there descendants out there who would love these photos? How did they end up in an op shop? I hope they were happy.

I think they are beautiful. 

"Elizabeth' looks serene and composed. She is looking at the photographer with a modest assurance and confidence, not to much, just enough. She is well groomed, wearing expensive clothing, the large collar,the cuffed sleeves, the lace ruffle of her blouse, pin tucking, stylish belt, side buttoned skirt which fantails out from the knees, bangle over long gloves, the delicate chains which usually held a watch or some similar object, glimpse of an earring and the hat with the feather decoration which was very fashionable in the 1890's, all certainly indicates that she was from a wealthy background. It was also fashionable in those days to hold flowers. Is the carved pew a photographers prop or from a church?

 'Harriet' also has a serene demeanor but I think also a tranquil glow. In my photographs the ladies have flawless skin, the paper however has some marks on it, Ethel's' being particularly marked as it so much older. They all have  cardboard backing. Her thick hair is held up with clips and ribbon, it looks as if it would be very long. Her dress could indicate that it is around the late 1800's and onwards, it would have been hand made, there are tiny bows at the high neck and the sleeves look puffed which indeed was the fashion of the 1890's. She wears tiny peal earrings, a locket and a broach of fresh roses. What was this occasion? Is it her child's christening? She has a look of devoted love on her face?

Ethel looks like the typical Victorian woman. Day dresses were worn with a round, linen collar, she has a small pin for that touch of femininity. Her dress and collar has been sewen with thin ribbon and it looks as if her corset is actually on the outside? They were expected to be childlike, pale, passive, submissive, mindless, genteel and nice, incapable of making a decision and prone to emotional 'vapors'.  Their status was reflected in their clothing and Ethels hat is a fashion statement from the 1820's. The more feathers, wide ribbons, runching and decoration the better, hair was piled upon the head and the hats worn on top. Hat pins were sometimes 18" long! Her face reflects the expectations of the women of that period. It was the time when they could not vote, that did not arrive until 1902 and men thought it incomprehensible that women could focus on any matters apart from the domestic and the trivial. Who knows what career Ethel would have had today? What do you think? I hope she smiled at home.

Despite having no say in the direction their lives would lead I see these women as incredibly strong. To 'bear up' and keep going takes determination and the optimism that one day life would improve.
And it has.