Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Tea in literature

Tea is and has been a topic in literature. For today's post I chose a paragraph from "Lady Audley's Secret" (New York: Dover Books, 1974) by the British Victorian era popular novelist Mary Elizabeth Braddon (1837-1915).

[Lady Audley] looked very pretty and innocent, seated behind the graceful group of delicate opal china and glittering silver. Surely a pretty woman never looks prettierthan when making tea. The most feminine and domestic of all occupations imparts a magic harmony to her every movement, a witchery to her every glance. The floating mists from the boiling liquid in which she infuses the soothing herbs; whose secrets are known to heralone, envelope her in a cloud of scented vapor, through which she seems a social fairy, weaving potent spells with Gunpowder and Bohea. At the tea-table she reigns omnipotent, unapproachable. What do men know of the mysterious beverage? Read how poor Hazlitt made his tea, and shudder at the dreadful barbarism. How clumsily the wretched creatures attempt to assist the witch president of the tea-tray; how hopelessly they hold the kettle, how continually they imperil the frail cups and saucers, or the taper hands of the priestess. To do away with the tea-table is to rob woman of her legitimate empire. To send a coupleof hulking men about among your visitors, distributing a mixture made in the housekeeper’sroom, is to reduce the most social and friendly of ceremonies to a formal giving out of rations. . .

. . . My lady was by no means strong-minded. The starry diamonds upon her white fingers flashed hither and thither among the tea-things, and she bent her pretty head over the marvelous Indian tea-caddy of sandal-wood and silver, with as much earnestness as if life held no higher purpose than the infusion of Bohea.

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