The Gentle Art of Domesticity by Jane Brocket

I’ve had a bit of a Bridget Jones day today. You know the sort, when all of the icecream you ever ate appears to have suddenly settled on your bum, you look absolutely knackered with bags you could fit a week’s worth of Tesco (or Wal Mart) shopping in underneath your eyes and everyone takes every opportunity to tell you so, everything you do goes wrong, you feel rubbish at everything, the irritating 10 year old child genius who lives next door to you is practising the piano and playing Beethoven perfectly on a loop while you are stuffing your face with icecream and watching Jersey Shore, taunting you with your 24 years of fruitless talentlessness, and the fear that you will die and be eaten by alsations in the home for spinsters begins to loom with frightening intensity as you realise it won’t actually be long until you are genuinely old and barren. Days like this usually make me resort to a little cry in the toilets and a large glass of wine in the pub with friends after work, but I haven’t had the opportunity to do either of those things today, so instead I am curling up on the sofa with yet more of Mr Ben and Mr Jerry’s finest and some knitting and a lovely book I realise I have not yet told you about, and which I should. This book has cheered me up no end, by the way, and I am no longer entertaining thoughts of eating the entire contents of my freezer. Which is a very good thing.

Also, today has not been all bad, as I found out I am going to be the proud auntie of another nephew in May. When my sister sent me her ultrasound photo two months ago, I rejoiced at the thought of a new baby in the family, and my excitement has known no bounds since! In case you’ve missed me mentioning them, I already have two nephews, and they are amongst the greatest joys of my life. George is 4 and Freddie is 20 months old, and they are the most adorable, most wonderful little men in the entire world. I loved watching them both grow into huge bumps and then magically appear, perfect little baby boys, over a nine month period, and before I moved to New York, I loved nothing better than driving over to my sister’s to read stories and bake cakes and cuddle and play with my little men. Sadly I will miss the entire pregnancy and first few months of this new baby’s life due to the fact that we now live an ocean rather than a short drive apart, but one way of me feeling connected to this new little baby has been by knitting a blanket for him. Every time I get my knitting out, I think about the baby and the life I hope he will have. With every stitch is a hope, a wish, and a prayer for his future. During the early months of his life, when I am not there to cuddle him in my arms, my blanket will wrap him up safe and warm and surround him with the love I have for him, even though I will be far away, and perhaps the dreams I knitted into that blanket for him, of love, and happiness; of joy, and of fulfillment in all he chooses to do, will rub off somehow. I hope so.

Knitting the blanket for my new little munchkin was inspired by the aforementioned lovely book that I am currently perusing, and have had sitting by my bed for a few weeks now. I dip in and out of it, when I am feeling so inclined, and it really is the most wonderful, life affirming, encouraging book that shows you it’s the little things in life that matter. This book of wonder is the marvellous Jane Brocket’s The Gentle Art of Domesticity, which is written with the same blend of passion, zeal and comforting, gentle reassurance Jane exudes in person. Split into a variety of sections, the book is formed of short essays on a myriad of domestically themed topics, from baking fairy cakes, to knitting tea cosies, to enjoying nature, to reading, to films, to paintings and the simple joy of eating chocolate. It highlights the small pleasures of a life well lived; of spending time with family, of passing on traditional skills, of filling a home with the smell of fresh baked bread, of curling up under a homemade quilt with a cup of tea and a Dorothy Whipple novel, and of noticing the colours and patterns and textures of everyday life. Jane takes things most of us wouldn’t normally notice, like a row of daffodils outside her window, or the way the afternoon light hits the windowsill in her kitchen, and uses it as a point of inspiration. The home, rather than a place of oppression, as many feminists would have women believe, becomes a place of light and laughter and love and freedom, where a woman can express her creativity, her passions, and her personality, in a variety of different ways.

It is such a wonderful book to come home to. It reminds me of the pleasures of a simple life, like the one lived in Little House in the Big Woods. I live and work in one of the busiest cities on the planet, constantly surrounded by noise and people and stimulation, and it is hard to make time to read and knit and bake and be cosy. I love all these things, but they always feel like a ‘waste’ of time when I could be seeing the new opera at the Met, or going to an exhibition, or trying a new restaurant, or catching a movie, or going dancing, or volunteering in the projects, or meeting friends. Jane Brocket reclaims the importance and value of domestic activities in the order of everyday life, and her passionate, beautifully written essays on the emotional and intellectual stimulation that stems from the inspiration found within the home environment are just magnificent to read. The book is also punctuated with some lovely recipes, gorgeous photographs and images, and it all adds up to a delicious, refreshing and marvellous package that I love sinking into with a cup of tea. While I have been knitting my nephew’s blanket, the way I feel when I knit has constantly reminded me of Jane’s intelligent insights on the value of using your hands to make something from scratch, and the level of satisfaction and joy that comes from watching a piece of knitting grow beneath your fingers. It has truly been a labour of love, and despite the fact it nearly bankrupted me (Purl Soho might be a beautiful shop, but the price of the yarn is heartstopping – apparently not everywhere sells wool as cheaply as South East London charity shops), it has given me a satisfaction that cannot be matched by an evening at the theatre or a fabulous meal out with friends. For when my little nephew is clutching that blanket in his teeny hands, the pride and love and joy I will feel at knowing he is wrapped in something I made with loving care, just for him, with every stitch measured out with a thought for his life and his future, will truly be priceless.

If you don’t know Jane Brocket, hop on over to her blog and take a look. I have all of her books and can promise they are excellent, and I have also had the pleasure of meeting her in real life and can attest to her absolutely lovely character. Persephone readers may know her as the preface writer of High Wages, and as she loved Dorothy Whipple before Persephone reprinted her, I think that sums her up as a good egg all round, really.

44 comments

  1. A boy! It’s a boy! How exciting! And how beautiful the blanket looks, all greeny and graduated!

    Also, you’re lovely. Ignore your brain when you have days like that. (I would have said this first, except I felt like the new baby boy called for more immediate attention.)

    1. I know! I know! Now I can bore you with another child’s photos for hours on end! Thanks, it’s looking pretty good. I’ll bring it along when we next meet up and you can gush at it and make me feel good about myself๐Ÿ˜‰

      You are lovely! You always make me smile Jenny!๐Ÿ™‚

  2. Mine sits on my bedside too.Someone asked just recently to name a book that changed your life well this was it. I had never looked at a blog or had heard of Dorothy Whipple, Elizabeth Taylor etc before Jane Brocket. I just love them all.Also I’m looking more closely at the things around me, started knitting again.It would have been my favourite nonfiction for 2010.

    1. It’s such a perfect bedside book, isn’t it? I love dipping in and out of it. How wonderful that it did so much for you and introduced you to so many lovely things. An inspiring read that changes your life is truly rare these days, and that’s why I love Jane Brocket – she encourages you to open your eyes – and everything she suggests is totally do-able and accessible – no superpowers, tons of money or unrealistic levels of talent required.

  3. What a delightful event to look forward to, Rachel. A new baby boy to add to your family pictures. Your blanket looks so cozy and I just love the thought of all the stitches of love being sewn into it.

    I’m so sorry you were having a bit of Bridget Jones day. Bummer. Cheer up as you knit and have a better day tomorrow. Like Scarlet O’Hara says “there is always tomorrow”.

    Brocket’s book looks like such a wonderful read. Domestic arts are so special, I think. You can stir the soup while reading Austen and feel good about life. Nothing makes me happier than watching my family eat a meal I have made for them. I’ve had several jobs and run for elected office (and served) and I’ve chaired many an event, but, nothing quite does it like my family and friends at my table. Now, there I’ve gone and run on again. Here’s my wish as I finish my day, and that is that you have a lovely day tomorrow and you know how lovely and special you are.

    1. Thank you, Penny. It really is so exciting and I can’t wait to get this blanket finished and to give it to him!

      I felt much better yesterday, thank you! Though today I have come down with a cold, so perhaps my bad day was me starting to get sick and grumpy!

      It really is a wonderful read – I know you would love it. You are so right – there really is nothing better than creating a comfortable home environment for those you love. Nothing else really compares, I don’t think! You are so kind, Penny! What lovely words to say.๐Ÿ™‚ I hope you know the exact same things about yourself!

  4. Lovely blanket!

    That book has done the same for me – put things in the proper perspective after a difficult spell. I see you have the English version – mine has a different cover!

    1. Thank you, Lisa! I’m so glad you’ve had the same experience as me with this book. I do have the English version – I much prefer it to the American, I have to admit!

  5. That sounds so lovely. I am adding the book to my amazon wishlist straight away.๐Ÿ™‚ This post is beautiful, by the way.

  6. My only hope of getting one of these books is through a second hand book shop or the op shops of Melbourne. I think a trip there is very important now!

  7. Oh Rachel, this is one of my favourite putting the world to rights books – I LOVE looking through my copy and the feeling of finding comfort in cake baking and making things – domestic arts I have found, particularly over the last year, are so satisfying! She also mentions lovely green Viragos, especially Elizabeth Taylor, so definitely a good egg.

    And how exciting to have ANOTHER nephew – is your sister aiming for a football team?!

    1. Verity, this book has you written all over it! Domestic arts really are satisfying and so undervalued these days! And you are very good at them too, which helps!๐Ÿ™‚

      I know! I hope not – I think she might stop now! I can’t imagine having more than three teenage boys in one house!

  8. This is a favourite book of mine, too, and got me ‘into’ crocheting ripple pattern throws! I’m a big fan of homemaking and domesticity as well as being a totally committed feminist…
    Sorry you’ve been having a bad day, but very pleased to hear about the imminence of your new wee nephew! He’ll love his blanket, I know.๐Ÿ™‚

    1. I want to learn how to do those rippled throws, Penny! Then you and I are exactly of one mind!๐Ÿ™‚

      The bad day is now over!๐Ÿ™‚ Oh I just can’t wait to see his little face!๐Ÿ™‚

  9. Like you, I am a fan of Jane Brocket, her books, her blog, her enthusiasms, her creativity, and love to browse into her books. Have you looked at the others, all inspirational in one way or another.
    Love your post, found you via Vintage Reads favourite blog list.

  10. First, congratulations on a soon-to-arrive new nephew! And second, I must take a look at this book… it sounds wonderful. Have just bookmarked her blog. Thanks, Rachel.

  11. Sorry you had such an awful day, although I must say I love the way you described it. The good news is, today is bound to be better! And congratulations on the new nephew!

  12. I hadn’t heard of this author, but I love your post and will be off to check her out. This sort of post gives me hope! (Does this make me sound like an old lady?) The appreciation for “things at home,” is so hard to find, but I think if there were more of it, our fellow females would find themselves happier and less stressed. There is so much comfort to be found in using one’s hands to create something besides a text message.๐Ÿ˜‰ Great post! Congratulations on the coming nephew. I’m so glad that the “down” feelings have passed. Your beauty comes through in many of your posts and your nephews have a treasure in their “auntie.” Have a wonderful week!

    1. I’m glad I’ve introduced you to Jane, Susan – she is magnificent! No you do not sound like an old lady – you sound like a sane lady! I think it’s a shame young women have been told to shun all things domestic, as really, being able to enjoy making your home environment warm and safe and beautiful is a great gift in life. Having a haven to go home to is a true necessity in our busy lives! Thank you, Susasn – how lovely and kind you are!๐Ÿ™‚

  13. I had just that kind of day yesterday as well and would have loved to have had this book to see me through it! Instead, I settled for long walks and Louisa May Alcott’s Eight Cousins (which also does a rather good job of praising the art of housekeeping). I was not familiar with Jane Brocket before but I’ll definitely be checking out her blog and, hopefully, her book!

    Congratulations on the forthcoming nephew. He’s very lucky to have such a lovely, caring aunt (with excellent knitting skills, no less).

    1. Oh Claire! I’m sorry you had a day as well! But long walks and Louisa May Alcott do sound like wonderful cures for a Bridget Jones moment. I must read Eight Cousins. I know you’ll love Jane Brocket – do read her blog and then get the book!

      Thank you so much Claire! I do my best to be an aunt extraordinaire!๐Ÿ˜‰

  14. I have a nephew who’s just turned one and he lives far far away from me as well (though I hope he and his parents will come and visit soon). I have yarn for a blanket I was going to knit him and I haven’t even touched it yet! Bad auntie! You have inspired me, I think I need to get out those needles and get to work.

    1. You are an aunt too! Isn’t it wonderful? I’m sorry you don’t have your nephew nearby – but yes, get that blanket knitted! It will make you feel closer to him!

  15. Oh Rachel, I hope you feel better soon. One of the nice things about living closer to my family now is that I have an absolute doll of a little niece right nearby! And I just saw her this morning. I wish I knew how to knit, my grandma did teach me to cross-stitch and sew though. (I thought I was moving to the country to ‘get away from it all’ but now there’s more family around than ever, I’m beginning to feel a little swamped with it and want some time alone!)

    1. Thanks Carolyn, my moment of pity was over pretty much as soon as it started! I am glad you are back near your family, but I know what you mean about overload! Oh! Knitting is SO. EASY. Really, if I can do it – ANYONE can.

  16. Though I don’t generally read non-fiction for pleasure, this book sounds absolutely lovely, Rachel. I will have to check it out.

    And I totally understand the Bridget Jone’s moment. I’ve definitely felt this way before, and it’s hard when you are far away from home to cope with it. Hang in there.

    By the way, lovely blanket! I’m sure your nephew will be trailing his blanket behind him like Linus from Peanuts as he grows up and will cherish it when he’s older.

    1. This is a really pleasurable read – it just feels like having a conversation with a friend. I encourage you to hunt it down!

      Oh Bridget Jones moments! They are always a pleasure! I am feeling much better today, thank you!

      Thank you – it is so soft and lovely to knit! That is such an adorable image – I can see it now!๐Ÿ™‚

  17. Ms Rachel, you are too funny even when you’re feeling sorry for yourself! I laugh because you are such a fabulous person and destined for wonderful things, you’re just having a bad day but you know all that.

    Your blanket will be a story in itself, knit across the ocean by a very excited Aunt. And I really must have a peek at this book by Jane, I’ve heard so many great things about it! Sending you hugs….

    1. Oh Darlene! You are too lovely to me! Thank you๐Ÿ™‚

      Yes it will! I can’t wait to tell him all about it. I know you would ADORE this book – you must track down a copy. Or we’ll wait until I’m back in England and I’ll find you a copy there and send it.

  18. Hope you get your sparkle back soon! I’m very fond of Jane Brocket’s blog too, even though I don’t craft or knit or sew. She taught me that women don’t have to be validated through work. She’s also a pretty perceptive book review, too!

    1. It’s back, don’t worry! I love that – women don’t have to be validated by work, and her celebration of that is wonderful in this age of obsessions with careers and success etc. Yes she is! I always enjoy her book reviews, shame there aren’t more of them!

  19. This is one of those books I look for every time I go into a used bookstore. I know I could order it off Alibris, but someday, it’s going to be waiting for me and I can take it home and curl-up with it, as you did. I enjoy reading Jane Brocket’s blog, and I have her book “Cherry Cake and Ginger Beer”, which is just wonderful and all about food in kid’s books and recipes to replicate them. I think you’d love it, Rachel, if you haven’t read it already.

    Congratulations on your soon-to-be-nephew! It’s amazing how much they wind their tiny little selves into your heart, isn’t it? Your blanket is beautiful, and the greens are lovely and cheering. He’s sure to love it and feel all the happiness that went into making it. Are you on Ravelry yet, or is there any chance we can lure you there?

    1. Ha! I love that. Some books you just want to hold off buying so that you can still have the thrill of the chase, don’t you?! This is wonderful though so I hope you find it soon! Oh yes, I have that book! And I just love it! The seed cake recipe is such a hit every time I make it!

      Thank you! I know, those little treasures have ruined me for life! I can’t bear to be apart from them and I miss them more than anyone else. Thank you for the lovely compliment! It’s all finished now and does look rather good if I don’t say so myself! No I am not on Ravelry…I need to get better at knitting things more complicated than straight lines before I allow myself to get tempted by gorgeous patterns and yarns!

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