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I love the Victorian era. So I decided to live in it.

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tags: Victorian



Sarah A. Chrisman is the author of the books Victorian Secrets: What A Corset Taught Me About the Past, the Present and Myself, and This Victorian Life: Modern Adventures in Nineteenth-Century Culture, Cooking, Fashion and Technology; she also compiled and edited the Victorian etiquette guide True Ladies and Proper Gentlemen. For more information, visit her website.

My husband and I study history, specifically the late Victorian era of the 1880s and '90s.  Our methods are quite different from those of academics. Everything in our daily life is connected to our period of study, from the technologies we use to the ways we interact with the world.

Five years ago we bought a house built in 1888 in Port Townsend, Washington State — a town that prides itself on being a Victorian seaport.  When we moved in, there was an electric fridge in the kitchen: We sold that as soon as we could. Now we have a period-appropriate icebox that we stock with block ice. Every evening, and sometimes twice a day during summer, I empty the melt water from the drip tray beneath its base.

Every morning I wind the mechanical clock in our parlor.  Each day I write in my diary with an antique fountain pen that I fill with liquid ink using an eyedropper.  My inkwell and the blotter I use to dry the ink on each page before I turn it are antiques from the 1890s; I buy my ink from a company founded in 1670. My sealing wax for personal letters comes from the same company, and my letter opener was made sometime in the late Victorian era from a taxidermied deer foot.

There are no modern lightbulbs in our house.  When Gabriel and I have company we use early electric lightbulbs, based on the first patents of Tesla and Edison. When it's just the two of us, we use oil lamps. When we started using period illumination every day, we were amazed by how much brighter the light is from antique oil lamps than from modern reproductions.

Our heat comes from 19th-century gas heaters and from an antique kerosene space heater.  In the winter we tuck hot water bottles into bed with us, and even the cotton covers that I sewed for those bottles are made from period-appropriate fabric (its designs are copies of fabric patterns from the late 19th century). Our bed itself is an antique from our period of study, and since it didn't have a mattress when we bought it, I sewed one by hand and stuffed it with feathers. ...

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