On Wednesday, a writer named Sarah Chrisman published an essay on Vox defending her decision to live life like it’s one long steampunk cosplay: to bathe with a bowl and pitcher, ride a high-wheel tricycle, forgo a cell phone—and to take the whole thing “more seriously than many people take their paying jobs.”
Chrisman’s commitment to the Victorian life is both extreme and spotty (she eschews historical analysis, calling secondary sources a “game of telephone”). To start, her essay was distributed on a website, appeared to be a revision of a very similar essay she published on another website in 2013 and ended with a request that the reader visit her own personal website, which does not answer the question of how exactly she funds her involved pursuit. It’s also perhaps the height of unexamined privilege to choose an anachronistic lifestyle (that Western society left behind gladly for any number of reasons) and consider yourself extremely noble and brave as a result. Chrisman writes:
Dealing with all these things and not being ground down by them, not letting other people’s hostile ignorance rob us of the joy we find in this life — that is the hard part. By comparison, wearing a Victorian corset is the easiest thing in the world.
This is why more people don’t follow their dreams: They know the world is a cruel place for anyone who doesn’t fit into the dominant culture. Most people fear the bullies so much that they knuckle under simply to be left alone. In the process, they crush their own dreams.
Well, don’t let the hostile ignorance ground you down, Sarah Chrisman! We admire your commitment, at least, and would like to suggest some additions to your dreams: some more authentic Victorian activities perfect for a white woman to try out in her spare time.
- Dredge corpses from the Thames River—make sure you get a good price!
- Do not vote (until 1918, anyway).
- Using the power of your uterus, supply Mother England with a new crop of British soldiers (just lie back and think of England, etc).
- Check out the old headlines announcing that Queen Victoria has become Empress of India—and then don’t forget to feel intense betrayal when the people you thought were friends turn against you in the Indian Mutiny of 1857. So fun!
- While you’re at it, the Crimean War seems fun, too.
- Pull that corset as tight as you can, your internal organs will be fine.
- Spend the summer working in a blacking factory—Charles Dickens did! Or, if you’d prefer fresh air, London always needs street sweepers.
- Publish under a pseudonym and be prepared for a dude to reveal your identity, even if you’d prefer he didn’t.
- Die from cholera.
- Die from syphilis.
- Die from tuberculosis.
- Have a baby out of wedlock and pay a baby farm to raise your child. It worked for Oliver Twist!
- Have sex out of wedlock and then get shunned and disgraced, but hey, at least you’ll have a poem or two written in your honor.
- Throw out your birth control in favor of a vaginal douche. Ah, the refreshing feeling of quinine sulfate.
- Don’t make your own medical decisions. That’s what husbands and fathers are for. Look at the bright side: You can take a break at any number of asylums.
- Need a job and not interested in prostitution? The cotton factories of Northern England are very posh and very good for your lungs.
- But prostitution is always an option.
- It was very safe.
- And heavily regulated in the kindest of ways.
- Contemplate the possibility of people of color making a difference in the world.
- Your paintings will rarely hang in art galleries, but you can try your luck as a muse.
- If you’ve read Jane Eyre, you’ll know that being sent away to school is always a real treat. Lowood forever, bitches!
- Take a leisurely walk through London during The Great Stink.
- Think about what persecution really means.
- Take in a game of rat-baiting.
- Feel comforted by the efficiency of the British legal system.
- See the world after you’re deported to the colonies for stealing bread. (You just have to survive the sea voyage, but NBD.)
Image via Oliver Twist/Rank Organizations