Pretty much every nerd and misfit, sometime during adolescence, wishes he could travel to a time and place where he’d fit in. Maybe it was an entirely separate fantasy world, like Narnia; maybe it was a secret world-within-our-world, like Hogwarts; or maybe it was a fantastic, steampunk version of the past.
I lived in those fantasies as a teen so much so that I remember stretches of my high school years more for the stories my friends and I concocted than for anything else that happened in the real world. That yearning came to life in Bulfinch, my second novel (due to be released this summer), in which a medieval knight and his monk chronicler travel through time into the attic study of a modern-day scholar.
But as my roommate and I spent this week’s snow day watching Pride and Prejudice (1995), I realized I might finally have grown out of my wish to live in the past — at least, the realistic past. All I seemed to notice were the things I wouldn’t have been able to stand about Lizzie’s world. Here are the top five reasons I’m thoroughly, solidly glad to be living right now:
5) Indoor Plumbing
In one scene, a servant pours a bucket of water over Mr. Darcy as he takes a bath. (I call these scenes “Darcy Candy” — non-canonical scenes inserted during parts of the plot when I imagine screenwriters are saying to each other, “There’s just not a whole lot of Darcy here…what can we do about that?”) My roommate said, “Ugh, that has to be so cold!” I immediately thought it had to be almost unbearably hot, if it had just been pulled from the hearth. Instead, I simply responded, “I freaking love indoor plumbing.” Thank you, William Feetham, for inventing the first mechanical shower — it’s too bad it didn’t catch on for so long.
Getting caught at your potential lover’s home with a horrible cold that lasts for weeks seems like a charming way to increase your acquaintance… oh wait, it doesn’t.
3) Female Independence
I hadn’t remembered how many times Lizzie’s detractors fling aspersions at her “conceited independence.” It was an insult, and as much as modern readers love the pluck and confidence of Jane Austen’s heroines, the plain truth is that those traits wouldn’t have been as widely loved in their own time. Plus, it’s also nice to be able to earn my own money, inherit, and retain my property right after marriage.
Writing letters is charming, and I like to send my friends and family handwritten thank-yous and other notes sometimes. But having a phone definitely saves a lot of running around during those surprise elopements.
1) My Kindle
I’d miss this more than Netflix, possibly more than the rest of the internet. With my Kindle, I have millions of books at my fingertips. I’m not constrained by what my stuffy host chooses to stock in his library, or what is considered acceptable reading for a young lady, or the limitations of physical book distribution. As I watched Lizzie pluck a book from the shelf and leaf through it absently I felt a sudden and overwhelming gratitude for my Kindle.
There are more reasons than five to explain the ways life is better in the twenty-first century than the nineteenth. I suppose that’ll put an end to my daydreams of travel into the heart of a Regency romance… but I’ll always have Narnia.