This is chapter one of the novella project for the class. This is a historical novel set in Victorian England in 1840. Ella Middleton is a seamstress working in her family shop with other girls like her.
I liked to think. That was one thing that I loved about my work. I could sit for hours over my sewing machine and sift through my endless thoughts. My father used to say that he wished my clothes could talk. “What a story they would tell!” I would laugh at him and say, “I hope they speak with discretion. I wouldn’t want my inmost thoughts known to just anyone, much less one of the dim-witted ladies of high society that I sew for.” He would smile, “I think you sew with enough discernment to pass it into the character of your clothing.” Then he would usually say, “But one day you’ll meet a real person who will listen to all those thoughts and he will be a lucky man indeed.”
I wanted to believe that he was right. My heart was sick with loneliness, my spirit weary from too many years of self-reliance, and I longed for a listening ear. My father had died when I was 17 and put off my “going out” for a year while I mourned. I still miss our evening conversations by the fire. In a way I find it a blessing for him that he did not live to see those days. He didn’t have to witness my lack of success in the courting sphere. At the same time I longed for his steady reassurance as well as his discernment.
My mother only aimed me toward moneyed men. I knew she meant well. She had grown up in the low working class and married into the low working class. Though she had lived well, she longed for me to have the freedom to choose my own lifestyle. She wanted me to have the time to raise my own children instead of working constantly and sending them away for schooling. She didn’t understand my love for the work as she was too concerned that it paid little. However well founded that dream was, she took it too far. If she met a successful businessman she would throw him at me regardless of character. Most of them were decent but not compatible.
This story is about the season during which I turned 21 and the year when Queen Victoria married Prince Albert. While society rejoiced in the match, I couldn’t help but feel pressure from many people. Victoria and I were born on the same day and therefore everyone I knew felt like comparing us. In a way I felt a kinship to her, but I sometimes resented the comparison that came from our identical age. This year it hurt more. A number of my friends and elders believed I thought myself too good for marriage and foolish because of the choices I had made.
I was in the front of dress shop just after opening one morning. The first thing I noticed about her was her hair. When she walked through the door the sunlight caught it. Those curls couldn’t decide if they were blond or red. Then our eyes met. She had a beautiful innocent face and we knew at once that we were friends. She smiled at me and walked toward me, kneading her hands a bit.
“Hello,” She curtsied.
“Welcome to Middleton Dressmakers,” I curtsied in return. “What may I do for you?”
“Well,” She shifted her feet nervously. “I’m going out this season and I’ve found that your shop provides the most excellent fashion.”
I wondered if she’d practiced that sentence. She said it so carefully. “Thank you!” I smiled warmly, trying to make her more comfortable. “Please, come and look at the work from our various seamstresses.”
“Oh,” she grabbed my hand, a look of fear filled her eyes. “What is your name?”
“Ella Middleton,” I replied, puzzled.
“Let me just choose you. I’ve been told you are the best in the shop. My friends have used you before.” She blurted quickly. “I-I’m so nervous.” She let go of my hand quickly and looked down.
“I’d be honored!” I smiled. “Don’t be afraid! Going out isn’t too dreadful, although I suppose I’m not one to talk as I haven’t succeeded in these past few years.”
Juliette smiled understandingly and I led her to choose from fabrics and styles. We had become friends and I knew that this season would be one of excitement and a lot of hard labor. I’d never done a wardrobe by myself, though I was old enough, and never for one so rich as Juliette appeared to be.