Aunt Epp’s Guide for Life
Elspeth Marr; edited by Christopher Rush
Simon & Schuster
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". . . wonderful, insightful, and witty discourse . . ."
Aunt Epp’s Guide for Life: A wonderful, insightful, and witty discourse on nearly everything that matters.
Christopher Rush’s memories of his Aunt Elspeth, Aunt Epp, are of a stern woman in silks and lace who thundered at him and called down hellfire. The Aunt Epp he discovered from her notes was a woman of intelligence and common sense, “staggeringly frank for her repressed and obscure time and place.”
All the taboo subjects of polite conversation and society—sex, politics and religion—are at the heart of Aunt Epp’s Guide for Life. Christopher Rush believes this collection of writings, Elspeth Marr’s Notes, were compiled for a specific young woman—or perhaps for all young women entering adulthood. For whatever the reason, the contents of this slim volume, often unchanged from the original spelling and vernacular, is a treasure trove of dealing with the daily issues of living and running a household. In Aunt Epp’s words, “keep your mind and your bowels open.”
What begins with recipes, or “receipts,” for curing a sore throat and making coq au vin soon gives way to weightier subjects: Darwin’s Origin of the Species, abstinence and atheism. Aunt Epp is decidedly opinionated.
On Jane Austen: “That she herself had passions is unquestionable: she was a human being; but that she leaves no record of these passions in her books is unforgivable. They will not make you more human than you already are; and in this she misses the entire point of literature.”
It would be difficult to choose a favorite passage from this compilation of witty and common sense advice. I laughed out loud at some of her marital and sexual instructions, not because they were ludicrous, but because they hit the bull’s-eye. Among the folklore and down-to-earth recipes, the reader finds the clear light of an active mind and a discriminating intelligence. It is the outline of a complex and fascinating woman who should be classed among the brightest and best philosophers. Aunt Epp’s Guide for Life should be on every bookshelf with copies in kitchen, bedroom and pocket or handbag so one is always nearby to consult—and one on the coffee table as nothing else would start more lively conversations.
I laughed about the poultice of chicken droppings for baldness, blushed at the cure for a husband’s jealousy of his child (“encourage your man to suckle you…a sucked breast may never run dry, and a man fed on his wife’s milk will never leave her.”) and sighed with wonder at her views on intercourse. “Very likely sex was not necessary before the Fall because all was perfection. After all, even our Lord Jesus Christ teaches us to ask for such a humble item as our daily bread. And sex is like bread. What would life be without it? A dull business indeed.”
While she was raised in a Victorian household, Elspeth Marr was ahead of her time. I enjoyed every moment spent marveling at her razor-keen intelligence, earthy logic and mouth-watering recipes. Everyone needs an Aunt Epp in their life.
Reviewer: J. M. Cornwell