Lucy Denyer: 'Like Marie Kondo, Jane Austen knew the value of a tidy hot press'
In these turbulent political times, thank goodness for Jane Austen, who once again has reminded us where true contentment lies: to whit, a well-stocked linen cupboard and a home where everything has its place.
I can’t be the only one who sighed with pleasure on reading the recently discovered remnants of one of Jane’s letters to her sister Cassandra, written in 1813, detailing her advice to her brother Henry’s French housekeeper.
“I have given Mde B my Inventory of the linen”, she writes, “and added 2 round towels to it.” Tantalisingly, Austen adds that Madame Bigeon has “shewn me all her storeplaces”, but alas, does not go into detail as to what they may contain.
Oh for a copy of Jane Austen’s linen inventory. Because is there anything more pleasing in life than a bounteous supply of perfectly laundered towels?
A cupboard full of serried ranks of neatly ironed sheets? A home stuffed with “storeplaces” for all of life’s essentials?
When I worked as a property journalist, my absolute favourite part of the job was going round houses and cooing over cunning hiding places. Deep cupboards in the bathroom! A pull-out larder in the kitchen! A pantry!
Crammed into a tiny flat, I could only dream of such riches, before going home to fold towels and reorganise my fridge.
As ever, Austen was way ahead of her time on the satisfaction that a well-ordered home can bring. Just look at the runaway success of Marie Kondo and the thousands like her who have sprung up to advise us on how best to organise our living spaces.
If she’d been around today, Austen could have made a killing as queen of them all, and round towels would top all the best-dressed wedding lists.
It’s easy to dismiss such domestic trivia, of course. Is it not a bit, well, trivial to care what the inside of your bathroom cupboard looks like? Is this not just domestic drudgery repackaged with visual appeal? Surely if we really cared about important things – saving the world, the emancipation of women from their domestic chains – we would stop fretting about how many towels we have, or whether the bedsheets are ironed.
But the two are not incompatible. Set your house in order, and all else follows.
The novelist Kate Atkinson tidies her drawers when she’s brewing a new book.
It is, she says, the perfect mindless activity that allows her creative thoughts to roam untramelled, with the added bonus of tidy drawers at the end of it. Me? I clean the kitchen while I’m conducting phone conversations, organise the bookshelves when I’m discussing politics with my husband, and cook when I’ve got a particularly vexing problem to deal with.
Turmoil is best addressed with a spot of tidying, I find – it’s a way of getting a handle on things when all about you is running out of control.
But even if I’m not wrestling with problems, a tidy house has the capacity to bring deep satisfaction. A sofa with perfectly plumped cushions, ready to sink into, a full fridge, a basket of freshly ironed laundry, or a casserole bubbling on the stove – these are signs that all is well with the world.
So hurrah for Austen for reminding us of the joy of domestic detail. And if anyone finds that laundry list, I’d be forever grateful.
© The Daily Telegraph
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