Our section of reading for today’s book study covers two topics – the domestic library and pineapple passion.
THE DOMESTIC LIBRARY
When I first read through The Gentle Art of Domesticity it was 2008 and our day to day home-school life overflowed with books and reading so I found this particular section to be right up my alley.
Growing up an only child, the library was my favourite place to be and reading was by far my favourite pastime. I’m sure that long held love of books helped enormously when we chose the ‘living books’ method of home education for our children and just this weekend my sweet Blossom, now almost 25 and a mother of two little girls, called for a chat and shared with me her dearest memories of those years – reading marvellous books together every day. This was joy to my heart you can be sure.
So as I share a bit from our book study this week I feel confident in adding my own book titles, the ones which describe aspects of domesticity in such a way that they left an indelible imprint on my life.
Jane writes, “Domestic novels reveal the textures of women’s lives and the infinite possibilities and permutations of the domestic space. They also give contemporary women the chance to reflect that we are fortunate in not being compelled to live in that way unless we choose to do so, which makes domesticity a potentially enriching way of life, not a reductive one. “ (page 26).
I love this quote, especially “which makes domesticity a potentially enriching way of life, not a reductive one” because from the year I entered high school as an impressionable 12yo women have been fed a menu of misrepresentation about domesticity, homemaking, motherhood and marriage. It was very much advertised as a reductive role.
Jane prefers to re-read novels that delight her than to spend time engaged with unknown or possibly disappointing books.
Like her I too remember details long after the final page of a wonderful book has been closed and one in particular, which I’ll share later, was read at age 8 and held dear ever since.
Domestic novels hold high regard in Jane’s home library and over a few pages she shares what inspired her in some favoured and oft-read titles.
Mrs Miniver by Jan Struther (1939)
Describing the movie version as a poor example of the characters and scenes in the book - “….the propaganda element mars this very English version of loving, happy, bright and cheerful domesticity…(Mrs Miniver’s) thoughts as she watches her children grow up, her appreciation of the small, ordinary things.”
They Knew Mr Knight by Dorothy Whipple (1934)
“Her imagery is subtle, her understanding of human nature is amazing…she doesn’t moralise, but is deeply ethical.” This book abounds with plenty of knitting, crocuses, ginger puddings and permanent waves.
Family Roundabout by Richard Crompton (1948)
“It’s a very female book and dominated by two matriarchs with different styles…full of womanly, homely detail such as sock knitting, basket mending, name-tapes, tapestry, iced cakes, party dresses and grandchildren…domestic novel par excellence.”
Cranford by Elizabeth Gaskell (1853)
“A slight book…one which should be read by every domestic artist….we are given all the details of the ladies frugal but creative housekeeping…friendships based on Shetland wool, new knitting stitches, crochet commissions, pot pourri…fantastic.”
The Diary of a Provincial Lady by E M Delafield (1930)
“Her diary is laugh out loud funny and all the better for being based on domestic concerns. Any smugness is undercut by humour…domesticity is rarely portrayed in such a richly entertaining style.”
The Home-Maker by Dorothy Canfield Fisher (1924)
“My copy of this book has more folded corners than any other, so memorable are the observations and details. It reaffirms all the good things about having children…poetry, baking, cook books, egg beating…all valued by this male homemaker who sees the opportunities that domesticity offers to the thoughtful mind.”
At Mrs Lippincote’s by Elizabeth Taylor (1945)
“…I have a very soft spot for the wing commander…doing his wife’s knitting watched by admiring wives of senior officers…who later gasp when he turns the heel of a sock.”
Personally, like Jane, I LOVED The Home-Maker by Dorothy Canfield Fisher and have it out on my table to re-read again. I also loved Cranford and will add that to my reading pile for this year as well.
But there’s other books which shall be re-read too, and some of them are from my childhood – What Katy Did is top of that list. I knew I loved her when they picnicked under the trees and ate tarts baked on china saucers because that’s exactly what Nana would bake for me, and so I began to take my tart and picnic under the tree out back and pretend I was Katy.
The Little House books by Laura Ingalls Wilder overflow with the most remarkable and genuine domestic scenes, family and parental relationships, using ingenuity, being brave and making do – they stand clear as probably my favourite series of books ever.
Running close behind is another book by Dorothy Canfield Fisher, but this one written for a younger audience – Understood Betsy (1916). I will re-read this one during 2019 as well, and noticed just the other day at Blossom’s that her copy was out on the coffee table, obvious that she still enjoys it herself. The main character is Elizabeth Anne (Betsy) and she goes to live in the country to be raised by Aunt Frances. The lessons of living in the country and becoming a very self-assured and confident young girl have you cheering from the sidelines and laughing quite a lot. It was this book which stirred my love for the churn dash block because whenever I see one or make one I am instantly back in the book with Aunt Frances teaching Betsy to make butter in the churn.
Books can carve such a strong memory track in your mind that ten, twenty, thirty, forty years later something can trigger a memory and you’re transported back in time to when you read a certain book. Those are wonderful times for me.
Jane fell in love with all things pineapple, stemmed originally from the gift of a pineapple during her meagre student years when the expense of acquiring one was prohibitive.
To this day she still looks on the pineapple as a symbol of wealth, luxury and romance - which is exactly how it was viewed in the 18th and 19th centuries, and also why so many domestic items from that era featured the humble pineapple.
Jane loves pineapple block quilts as well as pineapple crochet and a score of knitting patterns for pineapple blankets and hats.
So devoted to the passion of pineapple was she that Jane designed and knitter herself a rather Carmen Miranda-ish tea cosy (see below)...
“What I really like about knitting fruity tea cosies is the marriage of form and function. Thankfully there are no rules about what that form should be. As a result, the world is my fruit basket.”
On page 32 Jane shares her own recipe for a Pineapple Upside Down Cake. This inspired me to make one last week, however I used the recipe from another of her wonderful books, “Vintage Cakes” as it was quite unlike the normal way I’ve made these cakes in the past.
With no glace cherries in the pantry I added fresh strawberries instead. It was quite delicious, but we decided our original recipe was still a nicer version.
How are you enjoying our weekly studies? If you don't have a copy of the book let me assure you that I'm sharing as much as I'm able each week and do hope you're gleaning lots of interesting thoughts and pondering them as they apply to your own life.
No matter how many times I've read through the pages and topics of The Gentle Art of Domesticity since 2008, I always find something new to think about and that's probably because each stage of life, all my life experiences, and every journey taken quietly adds alteration to my personality, attitudes, needs and desires.
In fact, there's been noticeable changes since we bought our first home and moved in just four months ago. This is what makes the book so special to me - as I grow, it draws my attention to something I'd previously overlooked or not found relevant at the time.
What book have you read in the past which still holds an emotional connection for you? In what way?
Can you suggest any novels which nurture a 'domestic' culture?
Has today's study inspired you to read any of the titles Jane has listed as her read and re-read favourites?
NEXT WEEK we’ll be studying pages 34-43
If you have missed the previous three weekly study posts they are listed here.
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May your day be blessed and heart be filled with joy!