I have a weakness for PBS historical dramas. A weakness that’s real, slightly ridiculous, and just a tad bit embarrassing. Every Sunday night, I crawl into bed, ready to watch the latest installment of Masterpiece. The current series on air is Mr. Selfridge, a British drama about the birth and success of London’s famous department store, Selfridge’s. And, good grief, is it sumptuous, scandalous, and fairly accurate in its depiction of early 20th Century London.
Because a department store needs many people to run it, the series has multiple characters, living out their stories within and without the store’s marbled halls. I find that each storyline is rather thoughtful and interesting because it is based on the outcome and the implications of the characters’ daily actions, rather than on the characters’ responses to bombastic, shocking, barely believable plot twists (::cough::cough:: Downton Abbey). This keeps the drama in the quiet, the mundane, and the daily.
I’m particularly drawn to the Miss Mardle / Florian storyline. Miss Mardle is the the head of ladies’ accessories. She is middle-aged and unmarried. In Season One, she was entangled in a love affair with the married Mr. Grove, who, upon the death of his wife, promptly married a much younger women, while suggesting to Miss Mardle that they continue seeing each other. Miss Mardle was able to tell Grove to stuff it, with all the gracious firmness of a proper Edwardian lady, but the event left her deeply wounded, unsure of her own worth and lovableness.
Then comes Season Two and earnest, sweet, handsome Florian. A young Belgium violinist, exiled from his country due to the beginning of World War I, travels to England and becomes Miss Mardle’s lodger. It isn’t long before the two develop a mutual attraction and admiration for each other. And there are plenty of longing looks, blushing, and abruptly ended conversations. Basically, all the things that make a British love story so awesome and awkward.
Yet, even more compelling than romantic awkwardness, is how Miss Mardle responds to their mutual attraction. Though it is a shared experience of mutual attraction, her past experience with Mr. Grove, and the stories she’s learned to tell herself about how that experience defines her life, keep the mutual attraction from being shared. I find this beautiful and sweet scene to be an excellent example of her struggle and her self-realization:
Miss Mardle cannot see the goodness, the honesty, and the love that is right in front of her because she still chooses to live with a narrative that makes her feel unlovable. It is only when she decides to see what is front of her first and narrate the situation later, that she can finally allow Florin’s earnest sweetness to be part of her story. Her new story.
Miss Mardle is creating fiction within Mr. Selfridge’s fiction. Yet somehow, in this creating of fiction there is a cementing of a deep human truth: Stories are powerful. We tell them to remember, to solidify, and to redefine. Every morning, when we emerge from sleep, the experiences of our past and the fantasies of our future weave together, creating our stories of the present. These are the narratives that will either close us off to the goodness, honesty, and love around us—or, open us up to it.