Is there anyone out there who isn’t taking part in Persephone Reading Week hosted by Verity and Claire?! I certainly am, and have plenty of wonderful worlds wrapped in dove grey endpapers available for me to choose from my pile (ahem…bookcase) of unread books this week. Yesterday was May Day Bank Holiday so I went out on a crazy limb and started a Persephone even though I haven’t finished my current read, the marvellous, intriguing and addictive The Maestro’s Voice, that I am spinning out for far longer than I would usually because I can’t bear for it to end. Review forthcoming.
After much umming and aaahing over my unread pile of Persephones yesterday, I plumped for House-Bound, which my lovely Daddy chose for me for Christmas. Mostly all of my Persephones have been bought for me by my father; he secretly loves browsing the Persephone website and chooses me books from a list of ones I don’t have so I get a surprise book every birthday and Christmas. I was initially a bit disappointed that I got this over High Wages but after devouring a third of it yesterday afternoon whilst reclining indulgently on the sofa with tea and cake, rejoicing that it was a Monday and I wasn’t at work (hoorah!), I absolutely fell in love with it, and I can’t wait to get home tonight and read more!
House-Bound is about a well to do middle aged Scottish woman, Rose Fairlaw, who lives in a large house and is struggling to find domestic help due to the war and her maids wanting to do something more useful for the war effort. While waiting in the endless queue at the domestic help agency, Rose hears the agency woman declare that millions of women run their own homes without help, and it’s about time some of these helpless middle aged women who have never lifted a finger in their lives started to do the same. Ashamed by her own uselessness and inability to even cook a meal for herself, Rose determines that she will do without help and run her own home, much to the shock and consternation of her friends and relatives. I laughed out loud when her friend Linda says that Rose and her husband will have to move into a hotel rather than do without domestic help – the ridiculousness of it all made me realise just how different our lives have become over just one or two generations. My own grandmother was farmed out at the age of 13 to go into service, and only managed to escape this drudgery, which she hated, because of the war, when she was free to go off and join the WRAF. I can’t imagine a life like that now, but for many, it’s still in living memory, and the helplessness of Rose in the face of running a house the same size as my mother’s without a staff of maids and cook and handyman etc is both shocking and charming. Its authenticity in describing the attitudes and lifestyles of the upper middle classes in the early 20th century is something you just can’t find in modern novels that attempt to recreate the period, and as much as I disagree with the way Rose and her friends seem to think they are entitled to being waited upon by others less fortunate than themselves, I can understand that they were just the product of their time. In reality, the women who fell foul of the system and ended up having to cope in a world that no longer catered for the way they had been brought up, and left them floundering without the skills to survive daily life, were just as much victims as the women they used to employ.
There’s also plenty of interesting undertones of family unrest and the relationships between children and parents and husbands and wives…I can’t wait to delve deeper into the history of the Fairlaw family, and to discover how Rose gets on managing her house alone. I will come back with further thoughts when I’ve finished!
In other news it’s my gorgeous and much adored nephew Freddie’s first birthday today. My tiny, dark haired, dark eyed older sister has managed to give birth to two strapping golden haired, blue eyed boys, and you can see the darling Freddie below. Also, today we have our V&A WI meeting, and I am quivering with excitement as I invited the lovely Jane Brocket to speak to us, and I can’t wait to meet her!