5 positive things we can learn from the 1800s

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From taking more time for yourself or leading the charge for change, here’s what we can take from the 1800s and apply to our lives in 2018…

There’s something about autumn that makes us all want to go back to basics, whether it’s suddenly deciding to give jam making a go, or picking up that half-finished scarf you started knitting last year while you gorge on the newest period drama. 

While we typically don’t think of the 1800s as being the best time for women, there’s a lot we can learn from some elements of their lifestyle.

And with ITV’s new witty adaptation of William Makepeace Thackeray’s Vanity Fair finally gracing our screens, we thought it was high time we looked into the benefits of making our lives a touch (just a touch), more like Becky Sharp’s. Here are the best bits.

1. Embrace reading

The 1800s saw some of the greatest classic novels published, by authors including Jane Austen, Charlotte Brontë, Charles Dickens and Wilkie Collins. So what better excuse do you need to cosy up in a chair and delve into another world. 

While you can read these novels on a Kindle, it’s much more fun to get into the spirit of things with a proper physical book. And really, given the pace of our lives today, having to consciously sit down and read rather than click or scroll would be a welcome pastime – probably with big benefits.

2. Make a meal of things

We’re not suggesting you start serving seven-course meals or eating calf’s foot jelly but in the 19th century, meals were a ritual. 

Forget the quick nutrition fixes and don’t even think about eating al desko – take mealtimes as a break from your everyday life and really enjoy what you’re eating. And when you’ve got something special, treat it as a treat. 

We could take some cues from the 1800s dinner set-ups, too and light some candles as a centrepiece for our conversations over dinner.

3. Make your style sustainable

When overhauling your new wardrobe is as easy as an Asos spree, it’s easy to lose track of the things you already have. 

’Make do and mend’ seems like a mid 1900s sensibility but in the 1800s, it was common for women (at least those less well-to-do) to ‘make over’ their gowns, incorporating the latest fashions into their existing outfits to make them look brand new. 

A set of new statement buttons (take a cue from Zara’s last few seasons) on last year’s must-have cardigan can take it to a whole new level and your conscience can rest easy knowing you’re not feeding the fashion monster.  

It’s much easier than it looks, and you’ll have a wardrobe that looks brand new for less than that pair of boots you’ve been drooling over.

4. Write more

In a world where staying in touch often means firing off a quick text to the friend we haven’t seen in months, or liking a relative’s Facebook post instead of calling them, we could learn a lot from the women of the 1800s, who could devote several hours a day to writing letters. 

There’s something pretty intimate about a handwritten letter, whether you go all out and use a fancy fountain pen and thick paper or just a biro and pages ripped out of a notebook. 

Letters say so much more than an email or a DM ever can and when you’re putting words down on paper, you’ll find yourself thinking more carefully about the words you use or the stories you’ll tell.

5. Be brave 

We might think of feminism as our generation’s second wind, but the word was first used in the 1870s when the Victorian era saw women rise up and start demanding equal treatment.

Sophia Jex-Blake and her friends insisted that the University of Edinburgh medical school open its doors to women, Caroline Norton left her husband and campaigned to make it easier for women to get a divorce and keep custody of their children, and Dame Millicent Garrett Fawcett’s contributions to getting women the vote led to the Fawcett Society being set up in her name. 

If anything should give you inspiration to keep fighting for women’s rights, it’s the women who did it first. 

To delve into the world of Vanity Fair, tune into ITV on Sundays at 9pm and catch up on the ITV hub.