2nd Prize 16-18 Years Category

Short-Story Competition 2020

Alice Mantle

(Invicta Grammar School, Kent)

Cleanliness is Next to Godliness

What on the BLT19.co.uk website inspired you?

Through the inspiration of the drawing ‘Cleanliness is next to Godliness’ (the British Workman October 1857 p.136) I chose to portray an emphasised version of a Victorian woman’s internal monologue whilst in an oppressive and twisted relationship with her husband and God. The ‘good Christian’ woman believes that the purpose of her existence is to please both men in her life, and create for herself a worthy enough life in order to earn herself a place in heaven. We see that she forgets her own name and identity, through her devotion to ‘Him’, a pronoun that alludes to God but also refers to her husband, as she believed that both were on the same supernatural and divine level. Gradually we learn that the reason for her overwhelming need to please and satisfy is because she feels as though she is failing on her ultimate destiny as she cannot have a child and become a mother. Due to her unhealthy and self-imposed abusive relationship with God and ‘Mr Baker’, the woman sacrifices her whole life to repent and to repay her imagined sin to God and her husband, as she believes she is letting both down, and yet she still craves a place in heaven, as that is her final destination and resting place. Finally, I have used long, complex and confusing at times syntax to show her limited literacy, as well as a link to the Dickensian literary form. 

The British Workman October 1857 p.136

Cleanliness is Next to Godliness

One may say I am a woman known by many titles in my little world of the quaint four walls of 19 Grove Road: Mrs Arthur Baker, the Housewife, the Lawyer’s wife – to name but a few. However, one may notice that my own name still remains a mystery to whomever happens to cast their eyes upon my thoughts, and indeed my own name has become a sort of mystery to my own being. Unlike my dear husband, my existence on this earth is to serve a man, be a good wife and woman, so I am able to be a worthy, respectable wife of a respectable man; to be selfless and forget even my own name, all in the interest of earning myself a safe, quiet spot for myself in His Lord’s Castle when my time, eventually, comes – like the inevitable storm at the start of winter.   

For many a year, I forget how many to be exact (admittedly arithmetic was never my strongest suit as a girl) I have carried out my duties and have enjoyed the simple pleasures of dusting, sweeping, cooking and washing for my Saviour – after all, Mr Baker always praises me and says that ‘Cleanliness is next to Godliness,’ so I feel as though my seat at His abundant and infinite table has been earned through travelling on the path on which I have always been destined to travel. I am, among other honourable traits, a good Christian woman. I attend church with Mr Baker every Sunday, without fail, and I repent and pray for my sins and the sins of others, especially the sins that I have committed in my time on His plentiful earth, at the mercy of His hand. I try not to contemplate those sins that have been executed against me.   

I am a very proud woman, it has been said of me; and I take great pride in the work I do, in creating a haven of polished brass, freshly kneaded, risen, kneaded again, risen again and baked bread and swept wooden floorboards for the sanctuary of my husband. Each day I rise at dawn and hear the first innocent birds cheep-cheeping in the ancient and wise oak trees in the park at the end of the narrow cobbled street that is my whole existence, my house and home ‑ as I believe it is a woman’s duty to make a house a home for her husband. In waking early I can start preparing the bread for the day, which is my favourite task: I start by wiping down my surfaces, as a clean kitchen table is the best way to start the day, or so my mother would claim, thus instilling this lesson into the essence of my bones as a house woman. Then, I pour out my secret measurements of each ingredient: first the flour, then the yeast and water and then, if there is any around, the sugar to get the best-risen dough on the entire street (a title I hold with the upmost joy and pride, I have to say!). Then I use my hand as a sort of claw to mix the dough together. After this rather messy and uneasy step for me, I cover the dough with a damp ‑ clean – tea towel and leave it for an hour or so, whilst I get on with my other duties and let the dough really come to life, to become a spongy ball of golden nutritious goodness.   

Mother always warned me that bedtime stories, speculations and fantasies were created by Lucifer to draw nice young women down the path of forgetting their place in society. I fear that this may be the fork in the dusted, polished and baked-goods-scented road that is my eternity; for I cannot possibly force it upon myself to lay to rest in my mind the fact that I cannot and will not ever bear a child. I am disappointing Him in this one immense and unforgivable way, as I cannot complete my full duty as a woman. And for that, I shall punish myself eternally. I have vowed to Him and to myself that I shall make up for this great shortfall of mine by all, and indeed any, means necessary. I scrub this beloved house of ours from top to bottom at least once a day, and work myself to the bone to repay my sin, as I see it as a debt I owe to Him. I will pay it off if it is the last thing I do, and I repent it with all my might and strength and will. The blood, sweat and tears I shall shed will make up for the void of those three childhood necessities of which I am depriving the Men in my life. I value my own being as an emptiness in which I need to carry through the pain of childbirth every day, in order to gain my place in His own land. I will give my life to Him, just like Our Saviour, Jesus Christ did for us. I will sacrifice myself in order to fulfil my own prophecy of being a valiant Christian, woman, wife ‑ but not mother. The sacrifice of myself is the last act of repentance to gain a key to the Holy Gold Gates of His heart.   

If ‘Cleanliness’ really ‘is next to Godliness,’ then my countless and relentless prayers to my Lord will not have been totally in vain.