Arch. Myriam B. Mahiques Curriculum Vitae

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Changes of habitat in the XIX Century, in the words of Virginia Woolf

Storm clouds gather and lightning strikes over the Houses of Parliament

I ended 2012 reading Virgina Woolf´s Orlando, which I enjoyed, specially the beginning of chapter V, where she explains the evolution of the century through a climate change.
And as a consequence, the clothes, the houses, the interior design, the landscape, were changed, due to the damp that filled everything, including the hearts.
I think the following paragraphs are a beautiful way of explaining the European habitat (though she refers to England). Of course there are many great passages in the book, but these are my favorite ones:

THE GREAT CLOUD WHICH HUNG, not only over London, but over the whole of the British Isles on the first day of the nineteenth century stayed, or rather, did not stay, for it was buffeted about constantly by blustering gales, long enough to, have extraordinary consequences upon those who lived beneath its shadow. A change seemed to have come over the climate of England. Rain fell frequently, but only in fitful gusts, which were no sooner over than they began again. The sun shone, of course, but it was so girt about with clouds and the air was so saturated with water, that its beams were discoloured — and purples, oranges, and reds of a dull sort took the place of the more positive landscapes of the eighteenth century. 
 Under this bruised and sullen canopy the green of the cabbages was less intense, and the white of the snow was muddied. But what was worse, damp now began to make its way into every house — damp, which is the most insidious of all enemies, for while the sun can be shut out by blinds, and the frost roasted by a hot fire, damp steals in while we sleep; damp is silent, imperceptible, ubiquitous. 
Damp swells the wod, furs, the kettle, rusts the iron, rots the stone.  So gradual is the process, that it is not until we pick up some chest of drawers, or coal scuttle, and the whole thing drops to pieces in our hands, that we suspect even that the disease is at work. Thus, stealthily and imperceptibly, none marking the exact day or hour of the change, the constitution of England was altered and nobody knew it. Everywhere the effects were felt. The hardy country gentleman, who had sat down gladly to a meal of ale and beef in a room designed, perhaps by the brothers Adam, with classic dignity, now felt chilly. Rugs appeared; beards were grown; trousers were fastened tight under the instep. The chill which he felt in his legs the country gentleman soon transferred to his house; furniture was muffled; walls and tables were covered; nothing was left bare. 
Then a change of diet became essential. The muffin was invented and the crumpet. Coffee supplanted the after-dinner port, and, as coffee led to a drawing-room in which to drink it, and a drawing-room to glass cases, and glass cases to artificial flowers, and artificial flowers to mantelpieces, and mantelpieces to pianofortes, and pianofortes to drawing room ballads, and drawing-room ballads (skipping a stage or two) to innumerable little  dogs, mats, and china ornaments, the home — which had become extremely important- was completely altered.
Outside the house — it was another effect of the damp — ivy grew in unparalleled profusion. Houses that had been of bare stone were smothered in greenery. No garden, however formal its original design, lacked a shrubbery, a wilderness, a maze. What light penetrated to the bedrooms where children were born was naturally of an obfusc green, and what light penetrated to the drawing-rooms where grown men and women lived came through curtains of brown and purple plush. 
But the change did not stop at outward things. The damp struck within. Men felt the chill in their hearts; the damp in their minds. In a desperate effort to snuggle their feelings into some sort of warmth one subterfuge was tried after another. Love, birth, and death were all swaddled in a variety of fine phrases. The sexes drew further and further apart. No open conversation was tolerated.

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