The movie Austenland is terrible for many reasons, but what most offended me is that one of the main characters is a history professor who moonlights as Mr. Darcy at a Jane Austen-themed “resort” because he wants to experience life in a simpler time. Anyone who knows that much about history knows that such idealism is complete crap.
By all means, enjoy Downton Abbey and fantasize about those fabulous gowns, but don’t pretend that you wouldn’t totally be a kitchen maid if you actually lived back in 1918. Pine for the days of knights and ladies all you want, but don’t come crying to me when you contract the Black Death. Have fun with the world of Mad Men, and let me know what you think about the lung cancer and race riots.
Some bygone eras are better left bygone. And some of them would have been downright agonizing for us introverts.
And why is that?
1. Phone calls were even more painfully awkward.
Talking on the phone is bad enough for an introvert: you can’t use body language, you create weird silences when you don’t think and talk fast enough, and you use up valuable social energy. But the early days of telephones were even worse. Not only did you have to talk to the intended recipient, but you had to talk to the phone operator who would connect you. If no one was there, you couldn’t leave a voicemail and breathe a sigh of relief—no, if it was important, you had to keep trying. Or, if someone besides your intended recipient answered, you had to leave a message. That’s two whole other people you could be talking to without even reaching the person you wanted. And that’s if the operator connected you correctly on the first try. And if you were talking on a party line, who knows how many other people were listening in.
2. Traveling often meant sleeping with strangers.
No, not that kind of “sleeping”—I mean an actual snooze-fest. Before railroads, commercial airplanes, and interstate highways made it a way of life, travel was limited to the very few who could afford it—and there was still no end to the inconveniences. Besides the risks of impassible muddy roads and literal highway robbery, there was the issue of privacy. Only the wealthiest travelers could afford a private room—and only if there was an empty room available. At best, people bunked up with those they had already shared a stagecoach with—at worst, they had to fight over the blankets with someone whose name they didn’t even know. In chapter three of Moby Dick, Ishmael tries to get a room in a crowded inn, but the proprietor can only offer him a shared bed. He’s not happy about it, but he doesn’t act like it’s unheard-of. Of course, many travelers would have been used to sharing a bed anyway—family members and sometimes whole households shared beds, especially in those one-room cabins on the prairie. For people who want a historical travel experience, though, there are always hostels.
3. Salespeople in stores wouldn’t go up to you and ask, “Can I help you?”
Sure, this sounds ideal for an introvert who doesn’t want to be bothered while browsing, but here’s why clerks didn’t go up to you: you already had to go to them. Well into the previous century, shops were not self-serve. Customers at butchers, grocers, haberdashers, general stores, etc., couldn’t just go in and pick out what they wanted. You had to go up to the clerk and ask them for exactly what you wanted, and they would get it for you. It’s bad enough having your embarrassing purchases rung up at a store that doesn’t have self-pay stations, but can you imagine having to ask for them?
4. Executions were public events.
Being put to death for your crimes was bad enough in “olden days.” Unless you were a French aristocrat,* you were unlikely to get a swift beheading via guillotine, and lethal injection wasn’t popular until the late 1900s. It was probably the rope for you—not the quickest or cleanest of deaths (let’s not even talk about burning at the stake). But if you were an introvert, it got even worse. Recreation was scarcer before the invention of literacy and moving pictures. If the Globe wasn’t showing Titus Andronicus that weekend, people used more gruesome ways to satisfy their desire for violent entertainment–often in the form of a public execution. In fact, it became a tradition to execute prisoners at dawn because too many crowds would gather if they did it any later in the day. For those introverted criminals who hate being the center of attention, that made capital punishment even more awkward.
*Actually, the final use of the guillotine for capital punishment in France occurred in the 1970s.