“The door opened directly into a large living-room, where by a cheery little fire sat two other ladies, both of whom were also grim and ancient.” ~ Anne of the Island by Lucy Maud Montgomery.
You arrive at a house for a party. Large bay windows reveal the presence of guests in the living room. A stately front door stands to the left. To the right, an open garage door reveals a side entrance atop three steps, next to the gardening tools. No one else arrived at the same time to lead the way. Through which door shall you enter?
A house is not merely a residential structure; it is a living entity that demands decorum and calls forth social rules. Those rules have changed quite a bit since top hats, elaborate dresses and impromptu visits from the village pastor. In earlier times, when life expectancy was shorter and death paid a visit with greater frequency than weddings, the front door was often reserved for official social functions; commonly for wakes. It led into what was then known as the parlor, often the largest room of the house. As such, it naturally evolved into the room that contained the finest and most impressive furnishings. One wanted to display a certain ease of living and abundance.
A mid-1900’s source, The Ladies Home Journal, suggests the following scenario regarding the transition from the “parlor” to what we now call the “living room”. Europeans and Americans referred to the front room of the house as “the front parlor” until 1918, when both continents were ravaged by the Influenza. It is believed that the volume of deaths was so great that most people had no other choice than to pile the bodies in the front parlor, subsequently referring to this room as “the death room”. When the influenza finally passed, after millions of deaths, The Ladies Home Journal suggested that since the front parlor was no longer a room for the dead it should be called the “living room”. The term remains to this day.
So back to our initial party scenario: You arrive and instinctively proceed to the side entrance. This is how we do it now. The front door is reserved for strangers. In fact, our relations with others have become so casual that some folks never use their front door at all.
Imagine running a survey on this matter. Shall we knock at the front or side door?