Monday, 15 October 2007

The Gentle Art of Domesticity

This time I'm writing a book review which I did not want to put in the I'm reading spot on the right hand side of this page as it would be lost as soon as I upload my next book that I'm reading and this book by Jane Brocket is worth staying on this blog.
I came across the book by pure chance in the Daily Mail newspaper which I was reading over someone's shoulder in the newsagent. I saw a picture of knitting and as this is not a subject covered a lot or even ever in the news, I immediately bought my own copy. It turned out the picture was part of a book review and you can see the outside of the book above. Called The Gentle Art of Domesticity it has been written by Jane Brocket to expand the information on her popular blog:

Despite its title the reaction to the book has been far from gentle. Jane has endured a storm of comments in various publications and interviews. Among other things she has been accused of letting the cause down, the cause in question being female emancipation. Jane decided after a high-powered education to get married, have children, become self-employed so that she could work from home. She then discovered that she loved being a home-maker in the best sense of the word. She fell in love with baking, knitting, embroidery, quilting, gardening etc. and in The Gentle Art of Domesticity she describes her daily joys in great detail.

I was amazed to see that even in the 21st Century we women are apparently not allowed to make choices in our life that mean we no longer aim for the highest paid job or the most prestigious position. When we go for a different option that includes a choice for a better quality of life we are deserting our fellow sisters and giving up what so many women have fought for (al this from an extremely angry review in the Daily Telegraph).

Have we really gone through more than 30 years of Women's Lib to have it come to this?? In order to be called emancipated we HAVE to work, earn lots of money, try to get to the top, come what may. In fact we are to be denied any free choice at all. This apparently is what all women should aim for. The writer of the Daily Telegraph review (and disappointingly many others like her) seems to have forgotten completely several salient facts. Such as for instance, she maintains, this is what men do. Yes, but how did they manage to achieve this? Because they have wives. Unfortunately working women, on the whole, don't have wives. When we have full-time jobs we also remember people's birthdays, buy the cards, plan the food, quite often cook it and wash up the resulting dishes , keep the house reasonably clean and check whether dental appointments are due and if the paper bill has been paid. If you are a woman reading this I know you can add to this list ad infinitum.
Still, when a woman makes a choice for a better quality of life she betrays her sisterhood. Why?? Jimmy (from Jimmy's Farm TV fame) gets no such comments (letting men down!) when he made the decision not to persue his expensive education but instead to try and make a living on a farm. Yet if he had been a Jane instead of a Jimmy he would definitely be attacked like Jane Brocket has been.
As you can see I feel strongly and possibly if I'm honest, defensively about all this too. It is exactly what I did. After an extremely long and outstanding education I worked really hard (12 hour days) and made a success of my working life. Then I fell in love and got married, and continued as before. Till one day I suddenly thought what exactly the point is of living in the same house but never seeing each other except in passing. Spending weekends shopping and cleaning. Is that what life is all about. So we downsized and yes, of course, it was a shock, both financially and emotionally. I was not used to being at home. But I was lucky, I did a City and Guild Embroidery Course and I fell in love for the second time, this time with textiles. Now this has become my job. I again work long hours and for little money. And I am as happy as I used to be in my "proper" job. Both these jobs and decisions were entirely my choice. And that in my opinion (and I think also in Jane Brocket's) is what true emancipation is all about.
Jane describes the pleasure all her domesticity gives her. Her book (like her blog) is like one of those super large boxes of chocolate which you see in newsagents high on the shelves (no-one ever seems to buy, give or receive them??!!). Among the chocolates are some real favourites which you eat first, some with alcohol with a bit of a kick and others that melt in your mouth. The book does the same. You can dip in to your hearts' content. A bit of knitting, lovely quilts, yummy baking, gorgeous flowers, beautiful paintings and words which gently flow over you. She re-introduces all the ancient arts which women used to be educated in to a new generation who have been deprived of the relaxation to be found in these arts, not only for women but for men as well.
Buy a copy (you can get it from Amazon UK and yes they ship internationally!) and read Jane's blog and you will feel better about life and grateful that such simple pleasures exist in these increasingly stressful and hasty times.
Ask yourself what life is really about? Why do we live at all?
This book gives you at least a partial answer!
My next post will features once again my own art and the things that give my life purpose and direction but I had to get this one off my chest!


Anonymous said...

Couldn't have put it any better. I still get the "Yes, but what do you DO?" question- if I had a wife (or a full-time housekeeper), I might consider going back to work.
Beautiful cover, though, don't you think?

Lynne said...

I read Jane's blog and have been following the furore with equal amazement. I was particularly incensed by the interview with Jane on Woman's Hour and the suggestion that it is only wealthy and leisured women that can enjoy the domestic. I, too, thought we were past all this and could now choose for ourselves what we want to do.

katepang said...

Hear hear! I couldn't agree more. Currently I am trying to pursue my higher, expensive education a little further, after a previous expensive education failed to equip me for anything. Despite that I was self supporting for 15 years, got married, worked hard, had children. Always wanted a better quality of life. For various reasons, I am having to pursue a more remunerated existence at present, but I haven't lost sight of what I really want to do. Keep the dreams, and hang everyone else! They're just jealous.

Helen Cowans said...

Frieda - I agree totally! I too gave up a high powered career. I didn't want to employ a childminder or a nanny to look after my child - and like you I so enjoy my embroidery (which I fell in love with too) and being at home. Not so much money, no company car but life is MUCH better :)

It is all about the freedom of choice.

Surely thats the basis isn't it? Not the option to keep a career and get to the top but the option to CHOOSE what we want to do! I'm about to order the book :)

Nancy said...

Very well said! I think women who've chosen to leave paid employment, especially after years of education and career building, are threatening to some women who continue working while raising children. This seems true if the paid work is by necessity or choice, but I sometimes think the guilt is deeper in those working by choice. Oh, they often say they have no choice, but as you and other SAHMs I’ve read on this topic have pointed out, economizing and scaling down can go a long way to making it work.

Lenna Andrews said...

WOW! Thank you Frieda! I loved hearing your voice on something you are passionate about and you hit many chords here. I will definitely look for this book. Thank you! You are are a very smart & talented woman.


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