November 21, 2010

Phones in the hallway

Visiting cards had to be deposited in a silver tray to be found on a hall table.  They should never be handed directly to a servant nor to his mistress.

I find it amusing that Every Woman's Encyclopaedia advises its readers to place the telephone in the hall, even though the hall may be small and anyyone in the household can overhear phone conversations.

Visiting cards and telephone calls could be described as "invasions" or incursions into the private life of the family.  They are unsolicited requests from friends/acquaintances to gain access to the inner sanctum of the family.  

The hall could be seen as a half-way house between the public and private spheres of society.  In the geography of the house, the hall is removed from the public gaze and any visitors/phone call that land in this 'prothalamos,' or ante-chamber, await further acceptance or rejection, screened from public view and unable to proceed further in the house's internal space.

For a long time, the phone's place in the family home has been the hall table.  A ringing phone summons someone from the depths of the house.  Phone calls have to be made in the (usually) dimly lit, unheated hall, which is a thoroughfare for everyone else to pass through.  This is a public, shared area: it doesn't 'belong' to any one individual.  There is no privacy or intimacy in using the telephone.

With the coming of cordless phones and extensions, the telephone handset could migrate further and become part of living room or bedroom furniture.

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Digital Telephone Book by Elizabeth Chairopoulou is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.