The term “mistress” has much different connotations today than it did two hundred years ago. Then, it merely meant the woman in charge of the house. In my book, Violet’s Daybreak, after Violet and Nathaniel marry, Violet becomes the mistress of Bainscroft.
Can you imagine being in charge of a huge house, with more than ten bedrooms, several drawing rooms, morning room, sitting room, music room, studies, a library…I can hardly wrap my head around it! Violet is responsible not only for coordinating with her housekeeper, Mrs. Baker, for menus, giving final approval for maids hired and fired, and purchasing of other household items, as well as keeping up with some of the butler’s responsibilities, but she also would have been expected to visit the sick and poor living on the Bainscroft estate and surrounding areas, visiting other gentlewomen and gentlemen in the area (like her Uncle and Aunt Doberly), and so much more.
What parallels can you see with your own life? What areas deviate from your life?
When Violet moves to Bainscroft, she’s also tasked with redecorating some of the rooms. Thank goodness she has the Dowager Countess’ approval on that! Can you imagine trying to redecorate a room that your mother-in-law had decorated when she was a younger woman, and her disapproving your changing anything? It would make for some awkward afternoon teas, wouldn’t it?
Another thing Violet was dealing with in her first months at Bainscroft is that of her clothing. Her marriage was a bit odd in that she did not acquire most of her wedding trousseau until after the fact. I won’t give you the details of why that happened here; you can read about it in her book! Most ladies, when they marry, would have been outfitted with a new wardrobe by their families.
Nowadays, we simply go to the store, pick out what we want, maybe try it on, and buy it. During Violet’s time, a lady had to either purchase fabric and sew her own clothing, or choose the fabric and bespeak a gown with a seamstress or dressmaker. She would be measured, go in for at least one fitting, and receive the gown after it was made especially for her. Some dressmakers might have sold gloves and other sundry items, but most of the time, such items would have been purchased at a haberdashery shop. Things like gloves, stockings, and so on, would have been made and sold there. A milliner would have crafted and sold bonnets and such. A shoemaker constructed and sold shoes, slippers, and boots, and so on. Shopping has undergone quite a change in two hundred years, hasn’t it?
With this in mind, I thought it would be fun for us to help Violet out a bit with her responsibilities. I’ve created a closed Facebook Group for this purpose. We can post dresses we think she should bespeak, with whatever moderations we’d suggest for her (perhaps raising the neckline or adding a trim to the sleeves and hem). And I’m sure Violet would appreciate some help with how to decorate some of the rooms at Bainscroft. I know she felt content with many of them, but as the years go on, certain things will need to be updated. We can post fabrics, paint colors, carpet designs, and so on that we think would be helpful to her.