by Dorothy Canfield Fisher
Persephone Books £10.00
The Home-Maker may have been written 82 years ago, but the questions about the roles of men and women, not to mention the needs of children, remain as unresolved as ever.
Though hailed as a feminist novel, the author never saw herself as a feminist. It is set in 1920’s small town America, where men and women knew their place, both on the social ladder, at work and in the home. Evangeline is the perfect home-maker, cook and dressmaker who can perform miracles with very little money. She is a strong, resourceful woman. In her quest for perfection in the home, her husband and children, who do not aspire to her tidiness and cleanliness, are constant impediments.
Lester, her sensitive dreamer of a husband, hates his menial job in the accounts department of a local store and consequently never gets the promotion that his wife sees as the solution to so many of their problems. Poor, frustrated Evangeline clearly craves a different challenge and finds it, unexpectedly, when her husband loses the use of his legs in an accident. It is with her husband’s employers that she finds the larger arena that she needs and it is in the grubby home, now with newspapers on the floor to catch the dirt, that father and children are happy and Lester finds his vocation.
But what should Lester do when his damaged body shows signs of recovery ? Going back to the old life seems unthinkable…. With the parental roles reversed the family has at long last found happiness. Lester considers the possibility of both parents working, but who would then look after the children? He muses: “You could perhaps, if you were very lucky – though it was unlikely in the extreme – it was conceivable that by paying a high cash price you might be able to hire a little intelligence, enough intelligence to give them good material care. But you could never hire intelligence sharpened by love. In other words, you could not hire a parent. And children without parents were orphans”. Well, I’ll leave you the reader to enjoy the rest…. This novel is exquisitely produced by Persephone Books Ltd., a publishing house that specialises in reviving the works of forgotten (or recently discovered) female authors from a different era whose thoughts remain surprisingly relevant today.