On Not Being Accomplished…

By Alison October 13, 2005 6 Comments 3 Min Read


In the olden days when ladies were ladies and ladettes didn’t exist, great store was set by the need for women of  a certain class to be "accomplished", not just in manners, etiquette and deportment, but in all manner of arts, crafts and domestic achievement…

A proper lady knew how to behave in social situations, knew which fork to use at the table, could darn a sock should the servants be out of action with smallpox, would churn out a passable tune or two on the piano forte, and could if required, take to the hills and come back with a watercolour to be proud of…

These things matterered as much as the ability to put two and two together and thus manage the household accounts, and indeed comment intelligently on the Great Boar war, without getting carried away, and offering anything as vulgar as an opinion…

(**Note to self: Vulgar is a wonderful word! Use it more often…**)

While perusing around the wealth of victoriana sites on the net, it struck me that I am not even remotely accomplished. In almost anything. I can’t even knit, and you know how popular that is right now! True I can do a fair few things, fairly well. But only well enough to get by and only, if the truth be told, because I have to…

Am I alone? Or has the hectic whirl of modern day living  made the possibility of being "accomplished" plainly laughable? Do we no longer have the time to take what we would now consider "hobbies" and become more than passably good at them? Or is it that we are so possessed by the need to make enough money to survive, that when we do, oh joy of joys, turn out be good at something, we immediately seek ways from which to make a profit from it?

What if we taught ourselves to embroider scrumptious little tray-clothes just for the hell of it? Learnt to speak French so we could survive when our dream of living in Provence eventually comes true. What if we taught ourselves everything there is to know about wine and became something of a connosieur? What if we made a dedicated effort to know more about a subject that makes our hearts clatter? Or learnt the art of whisking up the perfect omelette?

It strikes me that much as we love our houses and our babbas, and our lovely little lives- it isn’t enough. Not because our heads aren’t already chocka block with the stuff and nonsense of our busy days, but in spite of it. Because of it. Because without embracing the opportunity to educate ourselves on a daily basis we do ourselves an injustice, and deprive ourselves of the chance to be more than who we are: to be the women we know we could be.

I can’t knit, embroider, sew a sock monkey,  speak French, cook well, talk intelligently about the state of the nation, keep us out of debt, make a perfect little cupcake, deliver a heartwarming speech, choose between a burgandy and a merlot, or even conduct myself entirely properly in any given social situation (I get the giggles. Even at funerals.)…

Or maybe I can. Becoming accomplished is impossible without the will to try…

Something makes your heart sing. What is it?


  1. Mimi says:

    Every Monday night, my friend Lisa comes to visit me. We used to take Salsa classes together on a Monday, and when they stopped, we decided to keep on meeting up. Lisa is a vintage girl too, she could be Lizzy from Pride and Prejudice. We have these conversations about Mr Darcy's idea of an accomplished woman and what we think the modern accomplishments should be, and what we wish to learn. I am so glad we are not alone! If it gives you an idea of our delightful silliness, we used to seal our letters with sealing wax (we write less now, with her being home from Univeristy). The only trouble is, I at least, am much better at starting projects than finishing them. Perhaps this time I really will learn to do calligraphy?

  2. Carol says:

    Hi Alison,
    I just like to let you know how much I like your vintage blog. I really enjoy reading it. I've also joined your forum today. And I'm very glad you have one!
    For me you have already accomplished a lot by having created such a lovely communitiy which is making so many people happy. Keep up the good work!

  3. persephone says:

    My grandmother was an "accomplished" woman. She was constantly teaching me to sew, cook, bake, iron, she signed me up for piano lessons. She knew the domestic secrets… When to take down the sheers and put up drapes, how to fold a king-size comforter into a tiny square. I rebelled against much of her teaching, and, now that I am teaching myself to sew, I call her for advice all of the time. It makes me sad to think how well of a seamstress I would be now, if I had listened then.

  4. Kerry says:

    Oh boy … I've started sooo many things but never finished or learnt to do properly … but at least with each new thing there's always some little piece of knowledge that you take away. Don't feel bad Alison … You're not alone with your modern disease … I think it's called 'lack of time'. We all rush so much these days.

  5. Savannah says:

    Oh, buy honey… you sure can WRITE!!!!!!!!!

  6. Nancy says:

    Could your Gran use a computer like you do? Could she write and bring her world to life via words and share them with the world?
    Just becuse you cannot embroider a set of pillow cases (but, you CAN buy vintage ones!), does not mean you are not accomplished. I learned to sew, cross stitch, embroider, draw, paint, and all sorts of "stuff". They are there, but mostly dormant. I don't think it makes me any more or less a woman who does not know how to do these things. Just enjoy and love being YOU, the best YOU you can be. And that is enough…….

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