Mrs Mortimer is no relation
At the same times as Charles Dickens was writing his classic novels, Mrs Mortimer was penning her own, not so classic, view of the entire world.
I have been having urges ? nothing saucy, I just felt the need to clear out my drawers.
And what did I find, under piles of vital papers and documents, which I have now thrown away or shredded... does anyone else end up shredding for two minutes and then waiting 10 minutes for the shredder to cool down? It is most vexing.
Where was I? Ah yes, at the bottom of my bottom drawer, I discovered a paperback book titled The Clumsiest People in Europe, or A Bad-tempered Guide to the World, by Mrs Mortimer.
That's not me, of course. One reason being that Mortimer is my maiden name. I liked it so much, I decided to keep it and, consequently call myself Miss Mortimer. I'm not interested in being an unpronounceable, neither-here-nor-there "Ms". The other reason is that this particular Mrs Mortimer died in 1878.
Who was she? Her full name was Favell Lee Mortimer and, as far as I know, she is not a relation - which is something of a relief.
In the mid-19th century, Mrs Mortimer took it upon herself to write a guide to all the nations on Earth. As the blurb points out, there were just three problems: one, she had (barely) set foot outside Shropshire; two, she was horribly misinformed about virtually every topic she turned her attention to and; three, she was prejudiced against foreigners.
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American journalist Todd Pruzan evidently felt the world needed to hear Mrs Mortimer's views and edited the book of her random musings. Rather than roam the entire gamut of her imaginings, I have chosen a few phrases that say rather more about the author than about the nations she critiques without ever having visited them.
Here she is on Russia. "Russia is the largest country in the world. Is Russia a pleasant country? You shall tell me whether you think it is pleasant."In winter, all is covered with one vast sheet of snow. There are very few people walking along the road ? but instead of people there are wild beasts hid in the forests. What wild beasts? Bears and wolves."
She was right about it being the biggest country but then she went a little off piste. I think. But at least Mrs Mortimer is fairly even-handed in her distaste of nations.
Of the US, the writer - a woman of religious conviction - says: "America is never spoken of in the Bible." I think that goes for most of the nations of the world.
While she praises the wholesome climate of New York compared to London, she is censorious about the way Americans raise their children. "... They are allowed to eat hot cakes and rich preserves at breakfast, and ices and oysters at supper, when they ought to be satisfied with their basin of porridge, or their milk and water and bread and butter."
Mrs M is a bit too Oliver Twist for my tastes. Thank goodness she had not encountered the French croissant.
You will not be surprised to learn that it is England that Mrs Mortimer loves best, although she is not uncritical.
"What country do you love best? Your own country. I know you do... Let us talk together about England.
"What is the character of the English? What sort of people are they? They are not very pleasant in company because they do not like strangers, nor taking much trouble. They like best being at home and this is right. They are very much afraid of being cheated - therefore they are careful and prudent and slow to trust people till they know them. They are cold in their manners, yet they will often do kind actions. They are too fond of money, as well as good eating and drinking. They are often in low spirits and are apt to grumble and wish they were richer than they are, to speak against the rulers of the land."
And these are the people Mrs Mortimer likes best.
In fact, Mrs Mortimer eventually moved to East Anglia. She died at Runton in Norfolk, and, I understand, is buried in Upper Sheringham churchyard. I like to think that once she arrived in East Anglia, she discovered that English people are actually rather amusing and not at all cold.
n And so, dear reader, I must bid you a fond farewell as I pack my belongings into a kerchief and seek out new adventures... I have heard the streets of London are paved with gold.
The first time I wrote a column in 1985, I was a young mum with a four-year-old daughter and a two-year-old son. Now I am a grandmother with grandsons aged six, four and one. How did that happen?
Thank you to everyone who has emailed and written to me with excellent advice and great anecdotes over the years. So many women have empathised with my wimmin's things (breast screening, HRT, menopause, men), and so many husbands have told me they like to read my column to try and get clues as to what their wives are thinking.
It's been fun.