Saturday, June 26, 2010

Book: The Home Maker by Dorothy Canfield

I recently read the book The Home Maker by Dorothy Canfield. It was another recommendation by the lovely Jane Brocket in her delightful book The Gentle Art of Domesticity.

It was written in 1924, and is an amazing, compassionate take on family and relationships then (and now). It's the story of a wife who is unhappily trapped in domestic drudgery and a husband who loathes his job. A tragic "accident" leads to him being injured and the wife going to work. What unfolds is an incredible journey for them all, including their children. It said so much to be about how we communicate with our children, how we think about homemaking, how important it is to follow our joy, even about school and learning. I just LOVED it!

Dorothy Canfield was an educational reformer, social activist and bestselling American author. Eleanor Roosevelt called her one of the ten most influential women in the United States. I think this book is a perfect foil for her radicalism. I just also read online that she Dorothy Canfield brought the Montessori method of child-rearing to the United States.

There are so many bits I want to reproduce that I really think I need to buy the book. But here are some gems. The first is a conversation between the husband and a well-meaning neighbour.

Mattie turned, saw what he was doing and pounced on him with a shocked, peremptory benevolence. "Oh Lester, let me do that! The idea of your darning stockings! It's dreadful enough your having to do the housework!".
"Eva darned them a good many years," he said, with some warmth, "and did the housework. Why shouldn't I?" He looked at her hard and went on, "Do you know what you're saying to me, Mattie Farnham? You are telling me that you really think that home-making is a poor, mean, cheap job beneath the dignity of anybody who can do anything else."
Mattie Farnham was for a moment helpless with shock over his attack. When she slowly rose to a comprehension of what he had she she shouted indignantly, "Lester Knapp, how dare you say such a thing! I never dreamed of having such an awful idea."
She brought out a formula again, but this time with heartfelt personal conviction, "Home-making is the noblest work anybody can do!"
"Why pity me then?" asked Lester with a grin, drawing his needle in and out of the little stocking.
"Well, but..." she said breathlessly, and was silent.

In another part of the book, Lester is realising how frustrating his wife must have found the "unfinished" nature of parenting.

But you couldn't put through the job of bringing up children. No amount of energy on your part no, not if you stayed up every night of your life, could hurry by a single instant the slow unfolding from within of a child's nature...

I've also discovered that Dorothy Canfield wrote a collection of short stories titled "The Bedquilt". A blog post about the book says "there can be no better story than The Bedquilt for conveying the joy and thrill of creativity". Think I have to find more by this wonderful author!

In quilting news, I haven't sewn for couple of weeks. I seem to be stuck in a rut of going to bed late and getting up too late (I do most of my sewing early in the morning). I have two quilts on the go, including one that was meant to be for my cousin who turned 1 yesterday. Some serious re-prioritising of joyful sewing is what I need!


  1. Thanks for sharing this book! I love to hear what others are reading.

  2. I definitely want to read this. And what a lovely photograph of Dorothy Canfield (- reminds me a little of Sigrid Thornton) She sounds like an original thinker.