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Writer’s Quote Wednesday: Boiled Socks

SocksEmily Gerard was a late-nineteenth century Scottish author, who married a Polish cavalry officer and moved to Transylvania to be with him. This move inspired her most notable work on Transylvanian folklore, which is believed to have greatly influenced Bram Stoker’s famous novel, Dracula.

My Writer’s Quote Wednesday features a proverb from Gerard’s The Land Beyond the Forest. As she explains, the proverb is rooted in folk magic.

‘Still more infallible [as a love-charm] is to procure a piece of stocking or shoelace of the person you desire to captivate, boil it in water, and wear this token night and day against your heart. This recipe has passed into a proverb, for it is here said of any man known to be desperately in love, that “she must have boiled his stockings,”’ Emily Gerard. The Land Beyond the Forest : Facts, Figures and Fancies from Transylvania (1888).

I’ve chosen the proverb, “she must have boiled his stockings,” as a means to explore the underrated romance of washing your lover’s socks.

Believe it, or not, the romance in washing your lover’s socks is not immediately obvious to everyone! Meet Diane and Ted, a couple portrayed as seeking marriage counselling in John Elderedge’s The Sacred Romance:

‘At this point Diane asked Ted about his deepest desires: “If I could be more of what you wanted in a woman, what do you secretly wish I could offer you?” It’s a question that most men are dying to be asked. His response? Clean Socks. That’s all he could come up with. Life would be better, his marriage would be richer, if Diane would keep his drawer filled with clean socks.’ John Elderedge, “The Sacred Romance: Drawing Closer to the Heart of God” (1997).

Neither Diane nor the therapist are happy with Ted’s answer. People should want more than clean socks; Ted should want “intimacy and adventure.” I concede that there isn’t much adventure in the romance of clean socks, but the intimacy is clear.

Actively caring for the person you love is an intimate act.

In an average day, how many people see your socks? Some people so seldom show their socks to anyone that they don’t bother to match them and don’t care if their socks are filled with holes. What about the smell? Who would let anyone get close enough to smell those?

Providing someone access to your dirty socks involves trust. Beyond sex, caring for someone is the desire to keep them well, to ensure their happiness. Socks are an intimate and necessary part of our lives, washing them and putting them away in our drawers is something we learn to do for ourselves. When we begin to do that for a significant other (regardless of gender), we become a team that looks out and cares for each other in the most basic way.

It may not, as Gerard’s proverb suggests, indicate that one is “desperately in love,” but it does indicate that one is trying to be a caring partner. Sometimes those little things are the most romantic things we can do for each other and no one likes waking up without clean socks.

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Bram Stoker’s Rules for Cursing

Screen Shot 2014-09-30 at 1.23.44 PMThis post is reposted from my other blog.

I must tell you beforehand that Mr. Morris doesn’t always speak slang—that is to say, he never does so to strangers or before them, for he is really well educated and has exquisite manners—but he found out that it amused me to hear him talk American slang, and whenever I was present, and there was no one to be shocked, he said such funny things. I am afraid, my dear, he has to invent it all, for it fits exactly into whatever else he has to say. But this is a way slang has. I do not know myself if I shall ever speak slang; I do not know if Arthur likes it, as I have never heard him use any as yet. – Bram Stoker, Dracula

In that passage from Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Lucy is writing to Mina. In it, she provides a wonderful peak into late-Victorian usage of colloquial language, from an upper-class woman’s perspective. Her description reminds me of when I first had to describe to my daughter the appropriateness of swearing:

“Certain words have the power to hurt people, some of those words also seem to amuse other people, and some of them are appropriate to use some of the time, but you have to be careful when using them. Pay attention to who you are speaking with, and never say anything like that in front of grandma, a teacher, or someone younger than you.”

That’s why Mr. Morris never speaks slang to strangers. He knows Lucy finds it funny, so he does it to make her laugh. As of yet, Lucy is not sure she will ever find an appropriate situation to use slang.

Passages throughout Dracula demonstrate how the use of slang and profanities was informed by gender and class.

In Dracula, Stoker makes the old seaman speak in a phonetically-spelled Whitby accent, littered with colloquialisms.

“An’ when you said you’d report me for usin’ of obscene language that was ’ittin’ me over the ’ead; but the ’arf-quid made that all right. I weren’t a-goin’ to fight, so I waited for the food, and did with my ’owl as the wolves, and lions, and tigers does. But, Lor’ love yer ’art, now that the old ’ooman has stuck a chunk of her tea-cake in me, an’ rinsed me out with her bloomin’ old teapot, and I’ve lit hup, you may scratch my ears for all you’re worth, and won’t git even a growl out of me. Drive along with your questions. I know what yer a-comin’ at, that ’ere escaped wolf.” – Bram Stoker, Dracula

I’ve never enjoyed reading phonetically spelled dialects, but this passage adds to what Lucy has to say about colloquial language by offering a working-class male perspective. Even as a working-class man, he recognizes that some words are obscene, though he appears to have developed such a habit of using obscene words that he doesn’t always remember to think about his audience when speaking.

Though this is just one late-Victorian writer’s perspective on the use of Victorian language, it’s something to consider when deciding whether a character you’ve set in the era would use the word ‘fuck.’