Jane Austen and Flush Toilets

July 13 (or so), 2015

I have been traveling (hence the lack of a post last week), but  I have now landed at my family’s cabins in Northern Minnesota.  (I can say this because I have a great house sitter back home.)

Cabin exteriorcabin photo

The cabins are on a lovely sand-bottomed lake,  35 minute from the nearest store, and until we got electricity about 15 years ago  we were one of the last pockets in the U.S. to  have been without.

So we have all kinds of modern conveniences, one teeny-tiny bar on the Internet signal, cell phone coverage that allows you to text from the driveway and occasionally talk from the end of the dock , but despite all these techno-wonders we don’t have flush toilets.

Wait, wait, you cry, do you mean you don’t have indoor toilets?  Of course we do.  You just have to go outdoors to go back indoors.  biffy


I am plagiarizing myself as I used that line to describe a fictionalized version of these cabins in Summer’s End.  (Let’s blame the North-Words Internet on the fact that I don’t know how to make this image clickable, but the book is available both in print and an e-version.) I would certainly rather use a clean outhouse in the beautiful woods than a disgustingly filthy filling station restroom.



Now this blog is supposed to be about Jane Austen.  And it is.  Austen had neither flush toilets nor gas stations.  In  the bedroom she shared with her sister at Chawton Cottage was a narrow closet with a wash stand and a chamber pot.

Wash basin and chamber in Janes room pot Chawton

Another Austen blogger twitched at the notion that Austen would have had to use the chamber pot in front of her sister.  What princesses we have become!  Our outhouse has two very companionable seats, and my sister and I often stop at the end of the driveway for a little sibling urination-time.


But I am now curious about peeing in someone’s else home. One hears about conveniences for men, but what about ladies?  Say you are Harriet Smith on a day-long visit to the very superior Miss Woodhouse.  You are only there for the day so you would not have a bedchamber of your own, and you’ve been drinking tea.  So does Miss Woodhouse escort you to her bedchamber?  Does a maid take you to a spare room?

And what do you say?   What was the polite way of saying that you had to tinkle?lake photo

I have absolutely no idea.  And sketchy one-bar Internet, I am not going to even try to find out.



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2 Responses to Jane Austen and Flush Toilets

  1. Liz Flaherty says:

    As I remember it, the necessary was referred to as the biffy in Summer’s End–maybe they all had biffy runs before Emma played music and Frank flipped her pages for her. (Or did Jane play? I need ro watch the movie again.)

  2. Mary says:

    You always make me laugh. Even with one bar of internet and an outhouse. To see the world through your eyes is entertaining for certain.

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