Friday Fictioneers–The Green Baize Door

Posted: April 17, 2013 in Friday Fictioneers
Tags: , , , ,

APOLOGIES to anyone who gets this twice.  Somehow the original was deleted and I have to post it again.

For anyone unfamiliar with Friday Fictioneers, the short story is that we’re a group of people who write….well, short stories. Very short stories. 100-word stories. Stories based on a photo prompt, posted weekly on Wednesdays, on our master site: Anyone can participate, either by writing a story or by reading the stories or both. The little blue link creature at the end will also take you to the stories.

wasps' nest_copyright janet m. webb

wasps’ nest_copyright janet m. webb

Genre: Historical fiction, or non-fiction, circa the Victorian era
For every Downton Abbey, there were many more houses like this.

The Green Baize Door

The servants rise in the dark from hard beds in cell-like rooms. After washing with cold water, they gulp their meager breakfasts. Doling out their tasks, the housekeeper waspishly admonishes them to be unobtrusive, eyes averted, neither seen nor heard.

On the opposite side of the green baize door, family members rise late before taking wing into the day. They live adorned in beautiful garments made by none of their own work. Predators and parasites, they buzz through life, taking nectar where they will, their lives sweet. They ignore the workers. Sometimes, they carelessly squash one. There are always more.


For those of you unfamiliar with the term “the green baize door”, here is an explanation:

The ‘Green Baize Door’ was the dividing line between the two domains, and trespassing beyond meant going into foreign territory. The ‘Green Baize Door’ was a feature of almost every substantial house. It was generally an ordinary framed door onto which was tacked a green baize cloth, usually with brass tacks. It was the universal signal of the dividing line between the two halves of the house. The Bull children would not be tolerated by the servants in the domestic part of the house unless they were working under supervision. This was like walking into somebody else’s house. The servants would normally use a different route to get to the various parts of the house, and would aim to be seen as little as possible. This was not because they were considered beneath notice: on the contrary, it was so that they could do their work uninterrupted by the requirement to exchange civilities. Houses evolved so that domestic staff could go about their task without interruption, not to ensure the privacy of the residents. They had none. –Borley Rectory and the Green-Baize Door, Domestic life at Borley Rectory, by Andrew Clarke , copyright 2002”

From Jane Austen’s World, If you want to learn more, read the rest of her informative post.

  1. yarnspinnerr says:

    Very well done. 🙂

  2. Fascinating story, both yours and the background about the door. Wonderful concept, too rich a detail to not use and so much can be built around it! I also like how your household with workers and royalty resemble the hive structure of a swarm.

    • Thanks, Madison. The resemblance, of course, is intentional but there’s a fine line between being too obvious and too subtle. I’m glad it worked. I’ve always enjoyed Anne Perry’s Victorian mysteries which showcase this concept perfectly. Even in a place like Downton Abbey, where servants were treated remarkably well for the time, life on the “wrong” side of the green baize door was difficult and insecure.


  3. kdillmanjones says:

    You pulled me into the households’ world so well! It seems too strong to leave at 100 words. I guess part of me is hoping you’re brewing up a lengthier piece with this. I loved it!

    • Thanks, Kristin. I hadn’t thought of lengthening it but if you’re interested in this type of story, check out Anne Perry’s series about Thomas and Charlotte Pitt. At the time, so many people lived an existence that makes our poor, even relative to everyone else, look vastly well-to-do. The servants were, in many ways, the lucky ones. They had shelter and food, something for which many at that time struggled.


  4. Love Downton Abbey lot’s of back stories like this one

    love the way you integrated the wasp-like existence
    glad you got it reposted was sad the first time I couldn’t get past the green baize door

  5. Alastair says:

    I love that story.

    Thanks for the background on where it comes from, and thanks for the photo this week 🙂

  6. Joe Owens says:

    So much double meaning here Janet. You got the most out of your limited words!

    • Thanks a lot, Joe. I didn’t want to be too obvious. The first thing that came to mind were workplace cubicles, but I couldn’t get that idea to work the way I wanted, so after a few more attempts, this is what emerged. I’m glad it worked.


  7. vbholmes says:

    Interesting story with a lot packed into your 100 words. I learned something new as I’d never noticed references to a green baize door. Also, lovely photo, Janet.

    • Glad you liked the story and the photo, vb. That period of history is quite interesting but much more to read about than it would have been to live there! Sammy would NOT like it there.


  8. Tadalena says:

    Good story.
    I do believe there is an issue. I’ve received it a dozen times and counting.

  9. Wonderful, I love how you took this symbolic approach to the life of wasps… very good.

  10. Kent Bonham says:

    Great story¡ If you arranged the lines on the verses, it would read like a poem. Raelly¡

  11. Maggie says:

    Fascinating approach to the prompt and was so interested in what you posted about the title! Well written!

  12. dmmacilroy says:

    Dear Janet,

    This is one of your more inspired stories. The tone and texture are perfect for the prompt.



  13. Honie Briggs says:

    I think it was a wasp that drove us out of the imposed propriety of the Victorian Age. I love the details and contrasts of the daily lives. Also, I agree with Doug, there is more to the story! Nicely done, Janet. 🙂

  14. Dear Janet,
    The way you used the wasp nest as a metaphor for the British hierarchy. One of your most inspired. Beautifully rendered.

  15. Penny L Howe says:

    Brilliant. Loved it, Janet. Excellent piece. Perfect comparison. No one did/does social commentary better than Jane Austen. No one! (Yeah, I’m a fan of hers!)

    • She was excellent! Have you read the mystery series with Jane as the protagonist? Fun. I happy you liked my little story, too. It’s not Jane, but…


      • Penny L Howe says:

        No it’s not Jane- its Janet. You’ve your own talent you know! Yes, I have read all of them! Great reading and fun too!

      • I wasn’t fishing for compliments, Penny, but thanks. Have you ever read any Georgette Heyer? Heyer was queen of the Regency period and I do mean queen–there are many who’ve attempted imitation but none come close. See if you can find “The Grand Sophy” and then let me know what you think. If you don’t find yourself laughing out loud often, I’ll be surprised. Bill, he of the Reaper stories, has read most of her books, too, and likes them.

      • Penny L Howe says:

        I have read every single one of her books! Numerous times. To me she will always be the Queen of the Regency period. My three favorite fiction genres are sci-fi, historical romance and mystery stories. And as it has been awhile, I just downloaded “The Grand Sophy” onto my kindle – fun for me tonight, thank you Janet for reminding me of the joy and fun of reading Georgette Heyer!

      • Hurrah!! I love her and own all her books. She has some good mysteries, too, of course, but I love the romances. Her dialogue is some of the best there is anywhere. I have her books both in book form and in Kindle form. The company that’s reissuing her books, Sourcebooks, is in Naperville, not far from our house.

      • Penny L Howe says:

        Good for them (Sourcebooks). A new generation to enjoy her. I’m on a really tight deadline with a publisher, so tonight will be a break from writing for me, once again I thank you. I also have all her books, but a move has most of my books currently in storage, so bless kindle!

  16. tedstrutz says:

    Nice… contrasting life in the manor house to the hive. Thanks for the education, I hadn’t heard of that door… I love anything upstairs/downstairsish. One of my favorite movies… Gosford Park, and you can probably guess my favorite TV show.

    Thanks for loaning Rochelle the pic.

  17. That’s a great story and metaphor, comparing them to bees. Wonderfully written.

  18. Sandra says:

    In my childhood our local doctor had a green baize door with brass tacks between the waiting room and the surgery. It was so that no-one could listen at the door I think! 🙂 Lovely story, I could visualise the door perfectly.

    • In the case of your doctor’s office and my story, baize was used to deaden sound. Nowadays, many people don’t realize they’re familiar with baize, which is used on pool and other gaming tables.


  19. nightlake says:

    very interesting and well written. Thank you for the photo

  20. zookyworld says:

    Cleverly written to compare the wasp’s nest to servants’ quarters and their contrast to the family members.

  21. Shreyank says:

    A great photo ! a lovely story with the symbolism. and also the history associated with it 🙂

    • Shreyank, I’m glad you liked the photo. I took a number of shots but liked the composition of this one the most. Of course I’m also pleased you liked the story. Photos are stories, too, so does that mean I did two stories? 🙂


  22. writeondude says:

    Cleverly written, Janet. Well done and thank you for the photo.

  23. denmother says:

    Very clever, janet. Amazing how you got so much “wasp” imagery in so little words.

  24. claireful says:

    I love how you got all those analogies and symbolism in this piece. Very clever.

  25. JulesPaige says:

    I did watch a show once where they tried to recreate this type of a home – for the summer. It was on TV, though I only watched a few of the episodes. I remember an explanation that servants when hearing a ‘householder’ were to turn away and avoid eye contact. In this show however things went a tad amiss when the ‘householder’ choice to listen to servants complaints about conditions instead of letting the actual ‘housekeeper’ dole out discipline. Even though the folks contracted for specific jobs, one of the shows ‘tenets’ ended up leaving because it was just to hard being a servant. Which made it hard for those who remained because they didn’t replace her. For the shows sake they presumed her getting sick led to her demise. But I didn’t know about the green door reference.

    Thanks for the neat announcement! I’m not sure what Saskia will do, but I don’t think opening the door is an option! 😉

  26. Carrie says:

    Love the comparisons of the rich and the servant…it is very similar to the life of a hive I think. And thank you for the information, I do love to learn things as I flit through the FF offerings 🙂

  27. JackieP says:

    I knew about “The green braize door” as I have read tons of Victorian writing in the past. Really well done how you incorporated it in the story, with the symbolisim of the ‘hive’. Great job Janet!

  28. JKBradley says:

    I wonder if those on the other side of the door also gluted upon royal jelly fit for a queen.

    Well done, as always.

  29. Mystikel says:

    Beautiful pic for the prompt. I enjoyed your story and learning about the green Basie door.

  30. 40again says:

    Good take on the prompt Janet.
    The life of people working on the land was so hard, that anyone who managed to get a position in ‘service’ was thought to be one of the lucky ones! “All found, one day off a month and wages” wow, how lucky can you get!

    • In addition, they weren’t always treated very well and the girls too often were subject to the unwelcome “attentions” of the sons of the household (with no recourse and any complaint causing dismissal.) But as you say, they were often the lucky ones.


  31. kz says:

    wonderfully done. you took us to another place and time! 🙂

  32. Lily Mugford says:

    I stumbled upon your blog through a comment you made on another blog and through you I have found Friday Fictioneers…. I love your 100 word story and am inspired to give it a go.

    • Lily, I’m so pleased both that you found my blog and that you’re going to be joining Friday Fictioneers! Welcome. You’re going to love it. I look forward to reading your first story.


  33. Superb in the telling of the contrasts, Janet, and the subtle weaving of the wasp references was excellent. I’m a Downton Abbey fan, too!

  34. elappleby says:

    Brilliant story and very cleverly done. You gave it a ‘waspish’ feel, but still kept it real enough to relate to at a human level. Fantastic.

  35. rgayer55 says:

    Just more grapes to be trampled in the vineyard of life, right? So what if you crush one. There are plenty more available. Excellent story, Janet, and I loved the background info too.

    • That was a hard time for the poor and there was an enormous contrast between rich and poor with not a large middle class. Thanks for taking the time to read and comment.


  36. unspywriter says:

    Very nice use of metaphor–and a great history lesson as well. Nicely done.

    Here’s mine:

  37. Neatly done compare and contrast. Well written.

  38. Trudy says:

    Beautifully written story and a lovely photograph. Thank you. 🙂

  39. Sarah Ann says:

    Really enjoyed this. I love the ‘family’ and its analogies. You’ve painted both sides of the house really clearly in so few words – I am feeling ever so slightly envious.

  40. Such a thoughtful and clever piece, Janet. Thanks for the history lesson, too.

  41. I had never heard of the “green baize door”. Really interesting and great story

  42. Great double meaning story, I waspishly admonish you from my cell-like room. If only I wasn’t so scared of the bees and the people!

  43. Linda Vernon says:

    This really caught my attention. I love this topic and one of my very favorite books (and movies) is Remains of the Day. Your writing is accomplished!

  44. What a fascinating insight – that the rich had no privacy at all. And you make the hive analogy work perfectly to describe the two classes and their very different lives – it’s a brilliantly written piece. Great job, Janet.

  45. Hi Janet – Another interesting Victorian, history lesson. In fact, I’m about to reserve
    “The Grand Sophy” at the library and read others by Georgette Heyer. Also, thank you for this week’s photo and commenting on my “Honeycomb”…

  46. sandraconner says:

    Very interesting take on this prompt, Janet. I really like the metaphorical quality of the story.

  47. This was an interesting subject and a frothy collection of puns.

  48. Nice story. It makes you think about how we wrongly view others and take them for granted.

    • Monica, thanks for taking the time on a weekend to read and comment (and “like”, too). At this time in history, there were many assumptions made on both sides of the door, much to the detriment of many!


  49. jwdwrites says:

    Nice story Janet with some interesting background info too. I also liked the analogous use of the prompt. I am fortunate enough to own a property in the UK which still has the old servants quarters in the attic with a tiny twisting stair to their rooms. It is fascinating to imagine what their lives must have been like.

  50. Abraham says:

    Educative. Interesting. A bit sad.

  51. sandraconner says:

    Hi, Janet. I’m contactiing you because I’m working on a book of short stories that will include the one I wrote for FF based on your picture of the wasps’ nest. I will add a little more to the story, of course, for the book, but I think it will be more enjoyable if I can show the picture with it. I’m checking to see if you would give me permission to use the photograph in the book — giving you full credit, of course. If, for any reason, you’d rather I not use it, that’s fine, but I’d like to if you feel good about it. Just let me know.
    Thank you.

    • You may, Sandra, and thanks for asking. If you would include a blog link with that info, it would be greatly appreciated. Are you going through Amazon or a publisher? Best of luck!


      • sandraconner says:

        This book will be published by the same publisher who does most of my other work, and we will definitely include your blog address. I haven’t done anything through Amazon yet, but I have one novella that I’m getting read to do through their “CreateSpace” program. I’m anxious to see how well it works out.

        For this book of short stories and verse, “Imagine,” I’m actually using photos by three other bloggers — due to the fact that three of the other stories were inspired by pictures they posted. Sometimes, the picture isn’t at all necessary, but there are times when it will make so much difference in the enjoyment of the story. For your picture, it’s the combination of the polished rocks against the wasps’ nest that makes it unique to this particular story. The cover of the book comes from a picture by a blogger in Oregon. It’s actually three of his pictures that he has combined into a piece of graphic art and when I saw it, not only did it inspire the lead story in the book, but it just begged to be the cover. I’m really excited about it, as is the photographer. I feel like this book is almost a “family” affair.

        Thank you so much.
        Your name will be on the picture, and it will be included on a page specifically devoted to identifying photographers (other than myself), along with their contact info via their blogs.

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