Tuesday, 9 March 2010

Telephones are put in their place ~

There are times when telecommunications effortlessly dominate our lives in the form of telephones, texts, television, and the internet. In their temporary absence we may feel strangely lost. This is, however, a relatively recent phenomenon.

In his immortal book, "Miss Mapp", novelist E. F. Benson has this to say about Mr Wyse's use of his telephone; ease back in your chair and let your mind drift to a small English township called Tilling, of perhaps a hundred years ago:
Tilling never ceased to play up to Mr. Wyse, and there was not a tea-party or a bridge-party to which he was not invited.  Hostesses always started with him, sending him round a note with 'To await answer,' written in the top left -hand corner, since he had clearly stated that he considered the telephone an undignified instrument only fit to be used for household purposes, and had installed his in the kitchen, in the manner of the Wyses of Whitchurch. That alone, apart from Mr. Wyse's old-fashioned notions on the subject, made telephoning impossible, for your summons was usually answered by his cook, who instantly began scolding the butcher irrespective and disrespective of whom you were.  When her mistake was made known to her, she never apologized, but grudgingly said she would call Mr Figgis, who was Mr. Wyse's valet. Mr Figgis always took a long time in coming, and when he came he sneezed or did something disagreeable and said: 'Yes, yes; what is it?' in a very testy manner. After explanations he would consent to tell his master, which took another long time, and even then Mr. Wyse did not come himself, and usually refused the proffered invitation. Miss Mapp had tried the expedient of sending Withers to the telephone when she wanted to get at Mr Wyse's, but this had not suceeded, for Withers and Mr. Wyse's cook quarrelled so violently before they got to business that Mr. Figgis had to calm the cook and Withers to complain to Miss Mapp.... This in brief, was the general reason why Tilling sent notes to Mr. Wyse. As for chatting through the telephone, which is the main use of telephones, the thing was quite out of the question.
     Miss Mapp revived a little as she made this piercing analysis of Mr. Wyse, and the warmth of the central heating pipes, on this baffling day of autumn tints, was comforting.... No one could say that Mr. Wyse was not punctiliious in matters of social etiquette, for though [...]
This excerpt is from "Miss Mapp" Chapter 6, page 139
 Ah, those were the days....

Book shop links for interested NZ readers:
"Miss Mapp" by E.F. Benson 
Fishpond.co.nz - other editions available - here you get three novels for one good price!
Lucia Rising:

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