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The Good Life

I don’t know who turned Jenna onto the BBC programs “Victorian Farm” and “Edwardian Farm“, but it was she who first brought them to my attention on her blog. And now, I’m hooked. As in, addicted.

The series chronicles the adventures of three modern Britons who live for a solid year in exactly the manner Victorian and Edwardian farmers once did. From clothing to farming, from cleaning methods to food processing, historian Ruth Goodman and archaeologists Peter Ginn and Alex Langlands tough it out in pastoral British settings, old-school style.

Their work is not for the faint of heart. From creating highly caustic quicklime to hand-washing laundry (a multi-day process Ruth eloquently describes as “flippin’ hard work!”), this trio brings historical Britain to life. And while the settings and animals are beyond idyllic and bucolic, it’s the labor behind processes once so strenuous that fascinates me the most (well, that and the clothes-the men’s clothes, really; I just adore nice trousers and vests and a good neckerchief and would gladly step out onto the streets of Asheville any day in such a get-up).

We’ve really got it easy these days. Even when appliances crap out or let us down (we had a run in with our refrigerator recently and had to transfer all of our food into coolers, which we placed outdoors in the snow while the deicing happened and then, today, we had our dryer serviced, as its heating sensor was acting up), we still have the luxury of their use. Pre-electricity, all work was done by hand, or horse. Absolutely back-breaking and bruise-worthy on all fronts, looking at the incredible amount of labor then involved in the most menial of activities makes me so very appreciative to live as we do today.

It’s easy to romanticize the past. I do it all the time. When confronted with it, however, in as explicit as a manner as that witnessed in these two programs, it looses its glossy grass-is-greener veneer. Only the truly wealthy of those times weren’t using the sweat of their brows to just get by. And although many of today’s technologies are considerably more polluting than their predecessors, they afford us a quality of life unimaginable by those living in earlier times.

We have a great deal to be thankful for. We have plenty of progress to be made, of course, in turns of cleaning up our technologies. Despite that, though, we are living in good times, times where labor-saving devices allow us to enjoy leisure and time for logic in vast quantities.

If you ever feel whiney about your current situation, check out this series. You’ll count your modern blessings, while learning valuable lessons from the not-too-distant past.

15 Responses to The Good Life

  • nicole says:

    Making a note to rent the DVDs. Looks fascinating.

  • Ooh . . . I love that genre of shows. Thanks fir the tip!

    My fave of all those shows was “Pioneer House.” I even made the kids watch it.


  • Morgan G says:

    BBC continues to blow me away. Their content is cheeky when appropriate, serious when required…and always, always original.

    And, I love your point about romanticizing the past. We certainly have a host of modern troubles to deal with, but, for the most part, health, warmth and comfort come a lot easier these days.

  • MamaAngel says:

    Yes, thank you for bringing up the romanticizing. I have friends that have never even started a garden saying things like “I am going to grow ALL my own vegetables this Spring” and it is hard not to say “WHAT?”. I can't wait to see this series, thanks for turning me on to it!

  • I've enjoyed watching those also, and at the same time my son and I have been reading the Little House books by Laura Ingalls Wilder. I feel the same regard for the physical labor involved during that time. While we could use more of that in our too-easy (in my opinion) lives now, I am very much grateful for my washing machine! Efforts that might seem “extra” by today's standards are so little compared to the past: hanging machine-washed clothes on the line, making chicken stock versus buying it, etc. Due to an excessively drippy faucet I'm unable to repair right now, I'm turning my water off & on with the valves under the sink. A little nuisance, but NOTHING compared to hauling water in jars or buckets. For the most part, modern Americans have no clue how easy we have it…

  • Jackie says:

    My favourite is the original, Tales from the Green Valley – I posted a link recently on my blog, though don't have it to hand right now.

  • Jennifer says:

    My husband and I have been devouring both shows lately. We're addicted too!
    I, too, tend to romanticize it. Even during the first few episodes I was thinking “wow, imagine the SATISFACTION those people had at the end of the day.” I crave the days where I fall into bed exhausted, because we don't tend to get that satisfaction in our lives in this society. But then I kept watching… Geeze they worked hard! Now I'm not so sure the satisfaction is worth that much toil!

  • Mary says:

    My husband and I were hooked on Victorian Farm a couple months ago and will soon be starting Edwardian Farm; you can find them on Youtube.

    Boy, are you right about having it easy today!!! For whatever the reason, I hate doing laundry. But just about the time I think to myself what a crappy job it is (and it really isn't!), I think I could be having to beat it against a rock … and then it's not so bad.

  • Heather says:

    I saw this on Jenna's blog too and LOVE Victorian Farm, but haven't see the Edwardian version yet. Have to check that out! It's great to have a show to watch with my daughter we'll both enjoy when she complains how much it sucks to clean her room and do other shores. :)

  • onegoldensun says:

    These programs look wonderful. Tasha Tudor was such an inspiration to me, for her dedication to live in such a traditional way. I find is hard not to romanticize the beauty of living that connected to the earth. Thanks for sharing!

  • Jaimie says:

    I love Victorian Farm! I've yet to watch Edwardian Farm because I've been somewhat savouring it. We really do have certain things much easier now.

  • Lisa Blair says:

    Oooo, these shows look great! How are you watching them? On youtube? BBC America? Netflix?

  • Lisa Blair says:

    I've been watching it on YouTube via Wii.

    It is amazing how smart some of the Victorian tools are – the hand-cranked veg slicer, the horse-powered machines that cracked wheat and smushed apples. We've replaced so many of the tools that work on simple horse or man power with machines that work using gasoline or electricity. It does make you wonder if some of these modern, “advanced” tools really are an advantage. Running on fossil fuels…

  • Julie says:

    Thanks for those links! We've enjoyed watching the PBS reality shows like that (1950's house, Pioneer House, etc). Glad to find more!

  • Amber says:

    Thanks for the post. It really does hit home; we're so fortunate.