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Quirk of history

Agony aunts used to tell it like it is

Modern day agony aunt Dolly Alderton. Instagram/@dollyalderton

“What better barometer of the nation’s psyche could there be than the questions in an agony aunt’s postbag?” says Tanith Carey in The Spectator. “My transgender brother is furious over my choice of baby name”, “My Remainer husband is refusing to get a new passport” and “My leftie wife is condescending and annoying” are just a few timely examples from one recent broadsheet column. Unfortunately, most answers are now some bland variation of “live your truth”. But it wasn’t always this way.

To a girl in 1895 who asked in The Girl’s Own Paper if it was acceptable to go boating with a young man, the editors replied: “It surprises us to find that a girl sufficiently educated to write and spell well should be so deplorably ignorant of the common rules of society to think that she may go out alone with a young man in his canoe.” And to a woman who boasted that she had managed to persuade her husband to do the washing up in 1929, one agony aunt replied: “I have difficulty replying civilly because you, who is so proud of her conduct, ought to be ashamed of it. You are an imposter of the worst kind. In my opinion there are plenty of criminals who are serving sentences who are not half so wicked.”