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The Home-Maker

by Dorothy Canfield Fisher
Persephone book no:

6 7 8


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A Well Full of Leaves
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PREFACE BY KAREN KNOX

AFTERWORD BY ELAINE SHOWALTER

288pp
ISBN 9780953478064

"A story of radical gender-role reversal... the characters are forceful and still live on the page today, and the book is compulsively readable. It's a complicated and passionate story about family life, about the inner lives of parents, and also of children." (New Yorker)

First published in 1924 and an instant bestseller at the time, The Home-Maker by Dorothy Canfield Fisher is set in small-town New England. It is the moving story of Eva, who is almost literally dying of boredom as an obsessively house-proud mother and home-maker (a word that is in everyday use in America but not in Britain), and her husband Lester, who hates his job at a department store and wishes he could spend more time with his children. When Lester falls off a roof and breaks his back, the couple are forced to swap roles: he is wheelchair-bound at home and Eva goes to work in a department store. The rest of the novel explores the way their family life changes and develops in response to this very modern parenting arrangement. 

The children gradually blossom and all sorts of practical ruses are devised to help them and Lester, now a house-husband, get through the day. For example, in one memorable scene, a nosy neighbour demands to know how Lester copes with having to clean the kitchen floor every day, a task which had previously brought Eva close to despair. Lester’s solution? 'The attic was piled to the eaves with old newspapers. Every day [the older children] Helen or Henry brings down a fresh supply. We spread them around two or three thick, drop our grease on them with all the peace of mind in the world, whisk them up at night before Eva comes in, and have a spotless floor to show her. What’s the matter with that?' What's the matter indeed. 

In Lester, we see a Montessori Father being born (Dorothy Canfield Fisher was responsible for introducing the Montessori method to the U.S.). The scene where he surreptitiously watches his youngest child learning to use an egg-whisk is one of the great scenes in the literature of childhood, in what is 'a remarkable and brave novel' (Carol Shields).

Also available as a Persephone Classic

Endpaper

The design of this Warner silk, velvet and terry material, exported to the USA during the early 1920s, was derived from a French fabric based on medieval tapestries: two birds are facing each other and away from each other - as in marriage, they are both coupled and confrontational.


Read What Readers Say

MadameBibliophileRecommends

Eva in ‘The Home-Maker’ hates her titular role which women are supposed to accept unquestioningly. Her unhappiness expresses itself in a determined perfectionism, and absolutely no interest in who her children are as individuals, only how they appear to others and reflect on her. When she goes out to work she became happier and less concerned with rigid perfectionism, and my feelings towards her did moderate somewhat. I did feel some sympathy for this woman who had been forced by societal expectation into roles for which she was entirely unsuited. Also, Dorothy Canfield Fisher has a wonderful way of describing the children’s psychology and emotions, showing deep understanding without being patronising. ‘The Home-Maker’ is an extraordinary novel in that it has a lot to say but does so with a remarkably light touch. Fisher challenges gender roles and assumptions via fully realised characters and a simple but effective plot, so it doesn’t feel preachy but still makes its point

Amanda Craig, ‘Independent’

[I was] astonished by the power and intelligence of ‘The Home-Maker’ by Dorothy Canfield Fisher, which tackles the issue of working mothers and the depression caused by thwarted female energies with brilliant perceptiveness

Simon Savidge (blogger)

Another typically marvellous Persephone novel… What I thought was so brilliant about ‘The Home-Maker’, which I should add was written and published in the 1920’s, is how it looks at gender and gender roles. A subject still current today, I mean how many house-husbands are there really?… I found ‘The Home-Maker’ a multifaceted read as well as being a wonderful tale of a family lost in society. I know I will often think of the Knapp family and what might have happened after the last page, especially as the ending is left much to any readers’ interpretation.

Categories: America Family Fathers Mothers Shopping Woman and Home Working Women

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