“Poor and rich were now equal…”

The Last Man by Mary Shelley, 1826

As so many people must, I enjoy reading about how cultured aristocrats, especially those of straight-laced 17th and 18th century England, may act when things go awry.  And although the topic of death and plague is nothing to be pleased about, I found Mary Shelley’s stab at decorum being upended quite pleasing.

While England has been hit with an apocalyptic plague, the main character describes the current state of events:

The Last Man by Mary Shelley, 1826“Families late devoted to exalting and refined pursuits, rich, blooming, and young, with diminished numbers and care-fraught hearts, huddled over a fire, grown selfish and grovelling through suffering.  Without the aid of servants, it was necessary to discharge all household duties; hands unused to such labour must knead the bread, or in the absence of flour, the statesmen or perfumed courtier must undertake the butcher’s office.  Poor and rich were now equal, or rather the poor were the superior, since they entered on such tasks with alacrity and experience; while ignorance, inaptitude, and habits of repose, rendered them fatiguing to the luxurious, galling to the proud, disgustful to all whose minds, bent on intellectual improvement, held it their dearest privilege to be exempt from attending to mere animal wants.”

More from this book in the last couple of posts.

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