Modern life is so complicated. Full of stresses and strains. Mortgages and macroeconomics. People demanding you be everything to everybody. However, living in the past is hardly the answer. Wouldn’t it be so much better just to co-habit with someone from a simpler time?
But what would it really be like to live with the hero of one of your favourite historical fiction novels? What does this mean for your kitchen? Your BATHROOM?
(This is another in the Why You Should Never Live With… series. Unreliable Narrator here. Chick-Lit Heroine here. Cop From A Crime Novel here. Young Adult Protagonist here. Literary Fiction Hero here. Romantic Hero here.
You arrive home to find Historical Fiction Hero standing in the middle of your kitchen. He is wearing a white shirt which falls to his knees, and not much else. His bare feet are filthy, and in dire need of a pedicure. His face is covered in tiny cuts and scratches, which mean he’s been using your razor again. You’re about to lecture him on bathroom etiquette for the sixth time this week when you notice three dead birds on the countertop behind him. You sigh.
You: Did we not have a discussion before about bringing dead fauna into our home in anything but supermarket plastic?
Historical Fiction Hero: [pointing] I beg your pardon, but what is that?
You: That’s a toaster.
HFH: What does it do?
You: It toasts things. Well, mainly just bread.
HFH: My word! [pointing again] And what is that, there?
You: A radiator. You know, for heating the room.
HFH: But where does the fire go?
You: This is an apartment, I told you. We don’t have fireplaces in here.
HFH: ‘Tis all very strange.
You: That might be true, but we’re never going to get anywhere in this sketch if you just keep pointing out things which weren’t invented in your time. When did you say was your time, anyway?
HFH: 1809. I am exceedingly well-informed regarding the Napoleonic wars. Ask me anything.
You: It’s not me who has the questions. I’m sick of the neighbours asking me who the hell you are, and why you keep quoting the Bible at them.
HFH: I am but a humble clergyman of noble stock.
You: You say that, yeah, but you also dabble in medicine, soldiering, Greek philosophy, alchemy and social justice. You go shooting and fishing at least once a week, and you speak eight European languages. Nobody knows what to make of you: you’re a regular Renaissance man.
HFH: Such as Leonardo Da Vinci, who lived from 1452 to 1519 in Florence, famous for his prowess in the arts and sciences, but also for his intriguing habit of mirror-writing?
You: Him, yes. You know, you spend a lot of time over-explaining stuff and defining things. Almost as though you’ve done the research and don’t want to waste it. Are you sure you didn’t have Wikipedia in 1809?
You: Never mind. What did you do today?
HFH: I killed three pigeons for supper. They are waiting on the kitchen-table for you to pluck them and put them in a pie.
You: What? I don’t know how to cook pigeon! And anyway, I’m not eating that. Are you mad?
HFH: Pigeon pie is a delight.
You: Yes. Next to scurvy and dying from consumption, it’s my favourite. Doesn’t change the fact that I’ve never baked a pie of any kind in my life.
HFH: But of course, I should not have assumed that you would do such a thing. I had been brought up to believe that everyone of lower birth would do my bidding. Or women of the female sex. But I have the strangest, most uncontemporary feeling in my breast, that women and the poor have a greater purpose in life than that which is meted out to them as a babe-in-arms. Is there a small crying orphan child about the place instead who could prepare the pie?
You: You know, sometimes you do sound very ahead of your time. Even for a supercilious misogynistic pigeon-killer.
HFH: I do appear to have a more objective understanding of my milieu than the average peasant, that is true.
You: Almost as though you’ve had a couple of centuries of context to think about it.
HFH: Indeed. Now, about that orphan child…
You: There’s very few of them about around here, to be honest. Parents tend to die a lot less these days.
HFH: But who do you have to clean out your scullery? Pick the pockets of the gentry? Who stands in the most violent and disease-ridden streets of the town, singing a plaintive song that makes great ladies soft of heart? Who serves to illustrate the greatest ills of your time?
You: Nobody, really. Kids these days are only interested in what’s on their phones. Mostly YouTube.
HFH: You speak these words as though they are common parlance, and yet I understand nothing.
You: You understand way more than you say you do. Last week you gave me a twenty-minute rundown of the First World War, which had to have happened at least fifty years after you would have died. And yesterday I caught you humming the theme tune to Game Of Thrones.
HFH: That was a mistake. It should come out when I’m edited.
You: For your sake, I hope so. Now will you please put some clothes on and bury those pigeons outside? I’m ordering pizza.
HFH: Cool! I’ll have pepperoni with olives and mushrooms. And a can of Coke. I have sixpence somewhere about me.
You: [muttering under your breath] Hell of a lot more than I’ve been getting in rent.
HFH: What’s that you say?
You: Nothing. Just put on some trousers. Or breeches, whatever the hell you call them. And your obsession with cutlery is going to have to stop, by the way. When the pizza comes, either you eat it with your hands, or not at all.
HFH: “They are what defile a man, but eating with unwashed hands does not defile him.” Matthew 15:20.
You: I literally do not know what that means.
HFH: [smiling delightedly] I shall explain over supper. I have an excellent book of moral essays which will entertain us most wholesomely until we have occasion to turn in.
You: Remind me again why I agreed you could live here?
HFH: I cannot be certain, but I suspicion it might be the sideburns.
You: They are rather long and lustrous.
HFH: Why, thank you kindly. I’ve been using your coconut oil. It’s the latest thing.
Whoever said they would like to live in a simpler time was never confronted with nineteenth-century feet. I’m sticking with contemporary hygiene practices and takeaway, thanks.