Friday, October 26, 2007

Talk At The Tea-Table With Aunt Flo.

Until beginning to read Victorian and Edwardian magazines some years ago, I would have imagined the 'agony aunt' or advice column a modern invention. Surely, Victorian ladies all had a network of 'Titus2' women they could call upon for advice. But it appears not and I would hazard a guess that such columns go back much further in time than the Victorian era too.

In 'The Family Friend' of 1905, there is a delightful example of the genre: 'Talk At The Tea-Table' with 'Aunt Flo'. No biographical details are given for Aunt Flo. Was she a real person or the creation of a number of writers. Both are equally possible but I would like to think that the editor of the 'The Family Friend' would be above such journalistic tricks and that she was the alter ego of one writer. Was the author a man or a woman? A woman I hope, although I have at the back of my mind those stories by PG Wodehouse where the hapless hero is reduced to writing under a feminine pseudonym for 'Peg's Paper' or some such frilly journal to earn a crust. The fact that the name was an assumed one was quite the done thing in those days, especially for a religious paper (for reasons of humility and privacy).

What is intriguing is the way that only the answers to the problems are published and not the original letters themselves. Again this is so common for the period. Advice columns in other periodicals take the same approach, even where the advice sought is of a purely practical nature ('hapless in Hendon seeks a pattern for a crocheted collar'; 'careless in Catford seeks remedy for gravy stains on linen' that sort of thing). This was, I think, obviously for reasons of confidentiality (and people were much more concerned with keeping the private, private then), to avoid the accusations of gossip and also to avoid creating an unhealthy interest in the problems and weaknesses of others. Far better to read the solution offered by a wiser soul and not the intimate details of the person with the problem themselves. Goodness, how times have changed.

So I will be offering up some of Aunt Flo's advice to you. I think that she is a delight and offers far more sensible advice that any of the 'aunts' writing in modern magazines. Certainly her advice is more wholesome. As with all things, eat the fruit and spit out the pips. There is certainly plenty of oddity mixed in with the common sense, but you may judge which is which for yourself (especially when it comes to health advice, household remedies and recipes)! I hope that you think her worth reading.

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