Home / National News / Meet a Washington Couple Who Lives Like They’re in the Victorian Era

 

(PORT TOWNSEND, Wash.) — Sarah and Gabriel Chrisman might have been born in the wrong century.

Every single day for the past six years, the husband and wife duo have tried to live a lifestyle consistent with England’s Victorian era.

Watch the full story on ABC News’ Nightline at 12:35 a.m. ET, Tuesday.

“It’s always been my favorite time of history, and for a long time, I had heard a lot of the stereotypes that people say about the Victorian Era,” Sarah Chrisman told ABC News’ “Nightline.” “And I just assumed they were true because they were what everyone said. It never occurred to me to question them.”

But Sarah Chrisman said her perspective changed when she tried on a corset and found it very comfortable to wear.

“When I realized that everything I’d heard about corsets was wrong, I started asking myself what else have I heard about the era, what else might be wrong?” Chrisman, 35, said.

“It’s been something where, for both of us, it really developed over a long period of time. And separately, perhaps, we would never have done what we are doing now, but together we’ve really encouraged each other. And we’ve built this interest into something that we do together,” Gabriel Chrisman, 37, told Nightline.

The Victorian Era ranges from 1837 to 1901, and the Chrismans choose to focus on the last decades of that era when telephones, electric lightbulbs and cars were first introduced. They ride 19th century bicycles to get around and wear hand-sewn vintage wardrobes.

Their home in Port Townsend, Wash., is furnished with antique appliances, such as a wood-fired stove set, an ice box and a lamp that uses gas and matches. They don’t have a washing machine, dryer, microwave or mixer.

“I do everything by hand. And actually a woman in the 1880’s would’ve already considered me old-fashioned for doing everything by hand cause they had sewing machines,” Sarah Chrisman said.

Between cooking, sewing, cleaning and even dressing by hand, it may seem like a lot of work to keep up their Victorian lifestyle, but Sarah Chrisman disagrees.

“It’s just different work, and because it’s work that I can see every step of what’s going on, I can see the mechanics behind it,” she said. “It makes me more aware of I’m actually living my life and I’m having an effect on it, and I really like that.”

In order to survive in 2015, they do have to make some compromises, such as having a modern phone, though they say they’ve never owned cell phones.

“We still don’t completely shun computers. Sarah’s had to use them for research. We try to understand that computers are a useful tool. I certainly still use computers. They’ve put me through grad school, actually,” Gabriel Chrisman said. “But I don’t want to be controlled, and I don’t want to have my life defined by computers and by technology.”

Gabriel Chrisman has a library sciences degree but works at a bike shop, and Sarah Chrisman works at home as a writer. Her third book, This Victorian Life: Modern Adventures in Nineteenth Century Culture, Cooking, Fashion, and Technologies, will be released on Nov. 3.

Sarah Chrisman said she had even written an entire book in script with ink but could only submit it to an editor by typing it up.

“There’s no editor in the world who will accept a handwritten manuscript anymore, so even though I write them this way, I still have to type them up to turn them in,” she said.

The Chrismans have faced backlash from the Internet after Sarah Chrisman wrote an essay for Vox about their life. People online noted that women didn’t have the right to vote during the Victorian era, but Sarah and Gabriel Chrisman said they don’t see voting as an important issue.

“Actually, [women] had a lot more power than they do now in many ways, and the thing is that the power that women had back then, they’ve lost,” Sarah Chrisman said. “What is so important about a vote? … I think that voting in general is overrated for everyone.”

“America started with a lot less voters than they’ve eventually become. You know, they had a great restriction on who could vote,” Gabriel Chrisman said. “The conception of who should vote has evolved over time, but again it’s really, it’s something that we don’t necessarily see as being the most important thing in the world.”

Others online also noted that minorities were not entitled to the same privileges as white people had during that time period.

“The thing is that there are certain parts of the country now where it is not comfortable to be different from the mainstream population whatever that might be whether the main population is white or black or what have you,” Sarah Chrisman said. “These all come down to things that are part of the human condition, that we still all deal with.”

The criticism hasn’t just been online. The couple has received death threats and Sarah Chrisman often gets approached by strangers when she’s out alone.

“Women will come up and they will feel entitled to touch her, touch her waist, touch her clothes,” Gabriel Chrisman said. “That’s actually much more scary than the hate mail because it happens in person, and it’s always shocking.”

“Total strangers I’ve never seen before in my life will come up to me and start groping me,” said Sarah Chrisman. “They’ll sneak up behind me and grab me around the waist, and then, when I take their hands off me, they’ll start screaming, ‘How dare you? How dare you take my hands off your body?”

The Chrismans said they aren’t trying to force their lifestyle on anyone.

“It’s the difference between reading about a different country in a book and going there. It’s actually being surrounded by those details and working with them every day,” said Sarah Chrisman. “And so it’s a way of becoming more familiar with things. And the more familiar we are with something, the better we understand it.”

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