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House-Bound

by Winifred Peck
Persephone book no:

71 72 73


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PREFACE BY PENELOPE FITZGERALD
312pp
ISBN 9781903155622


We first read House-Bound by Winifred Peck in 1985 when, in a feature in the Times Literary Supplement, the novelist and critic Penelope Fitzgerald, Winifred Peck’s niece, chose it as one of the books she would like to see reprinted. 

Penelope Fitzgerald wrote: ‘If I could have back one of the many Winifred Peck titles I once possessed I would choose House-Bound. The story never moves out of middle-class Edinburgh; the satire on genteel living, though, is always kept in relation to the vast severance and waste of the war beyond. The book opens with a grand comic sweep as the ladies come empty-handed away from the registry office where they have learned that they can no longer be “suited” and in future will have to manage their own unmanageable homes. There are coal fires, kitchen ranges and intractable husbands; Rose is not quite sure whether you need soap to wash potatoes. Her struggle continues on several fronts, but not always in terms of comedy. To be house-bound is to be “tethered to a collection of all the extinct memories... with which they had grown up... how are we all to get out?” I remember it as a novel by a romantic who was as sharp as a needle, too sharp to deceive herself.’

House-Bound was written during the war and the war is both in the background and foreground: one of the questions that the reader is asked throughout the book is – what is courage? This is another book, like Few Eggs and No Oranges, Persephone book no.9 and A House in the Country, Persephone book no.31, which gives an incredible picture of life during the war as it actually was, rather than viewed with hindsight.

House-Bound also contains a more unusual theme: Rose’s daughter Flora is difficult, petulant and horrible to her mother, which is not something often written about in fiction (for obvious reasons, but perhaps Winifred Peck felt able to write about Flora because she had no daughters). Flora finally turns a corner; but it is painful to read about her until that happens.

Winifred Peck is also funny and perceptive about Rose Fairlaw’s decision to manage her house on her own. For years her family ‘had been free of nine or ten rooms in the upper earth, while three women shared the exiguous darkness of the basement.’ But, like Mollie Panter-Downes or Lettice Cooper, Winifred Peck could foresee the future and wrote informatively and amusingly, not complainingly, about the need for middle-class women to run their home without help, the title of one of our books and a key theme of many of them.

For more on House-Bound, have a look at the Persephone Perspective

Endpaper

Endpapers taken from a 1941 watercolour design by Eric Ravilious for a textile commissioned by the Cotton Board.

Picture Caption

Residents of Blackfriars Street, Edinburgh in the early 1940s


Read What Readers Say

Michael Morpurgo on ‘BBC Radio 4 - A Good Read’

Beautifully written. I thought it was supremely funny. I mean, really funny. I had reservations to start with. I thought, this is going to be a book with one joke, it’s going to be all about middle-class people without servants and how you manage… But then I found myself losing myself in her world… There’s a wonderful description of the first breakfast that she makes and the chaos that ensues, and she was completely hopeless. So you rock with laughter, and then of course it gets serious because there are interesting relationships in the family… I was completely captivated. I thought it was a terrific read.

Categories: Family House and Garden Scotland Social Comedy Woman and Home WWII

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