A great big thank you to Team Middlemarch for all the fascinating and thoughful comments on Book Two over the weekend, it really has felt as close to sitting in a book group as it can be possible to achieve online. Even one of the Dowagers, who has inexplicably taken to sitting on my desk, has been enjoying it. Your thoughts are all enhancing this read enormously and I love the way that we seem to have so much time to think inbetween instalments. Please do keep adding comments there if you want to, and for anyone who thinks it might be too late to catch up, it isn't. We are only 200 pages in as per our Victorian publication schedule and you have almost two months before we reconvene for Book Three on May 19th.
I usually try to cover a 'big' book on a Monday, and I do have a mile-long post on Pilcrow by Adam Mars-Jones ready and waiting in the wings, but I thought we'd have something a little less strenuous after such a busy 'thinking' weekend. Plus here in the UK we have had the Day of the Vanishing Hour, as the clocks go forward for British Summertime, so tempus is fugiting and I'm all at sixes and sevens with it. I might as well just head to the South Pacific, cross a few more timelines and really confuse myself.
You know that moment when you are clearing out a pile of books and you come across one that has been lost for years, the one you had forgotten you even had...well that happened recently when I stumbled across my old 70p blue Pelican edition of Coming of Age in Samoa by Margaret Mead.
First published in 1928 it was a set book on the reading list for my health visitor training back in 1977, and I'll be honest and say I was flummoxed as to how it was going to help me find my way around the naval estates of Plymouth visiting new babies, but I bought it and read it anyway. It did of course inform all the in-depth study of the family that was to follow, whilst pandering to the stock phrase of our tutor...
"...but that is only in your experience"
as any notions of judgemental or subjective assessments were drummed out of us.
Thus, in amongst the piles of dusty textbooks requiring a keep-or-discard decision, I settled down to browse Coming of Age in Samoa and of course it is a fascinating book. Ultimately it is a book about research into adolescence and I was unaware that the book, with its reports of promiscuity amongst the native girls, had been found quite shocking on publication and it would seem Margaret Mead and the book itself came under considerable personal scrutiny and attack.
That apart what an amazing feat for a woman in the 1920s. To complete a degree in 1923 and then to win a research fellowship and head off to the Pacific islands. Much has been argued by anthropologists thereafter as to whether Margaret Mead was the subject of a hoax by the islanders. Someone attempted to unravel it all in the 1980s apparently, with claims that the islanders had only been joking and had lied to Margaret Mead in response to her questioning.
Setting that aside it is still interesting to ponder the Samoan household and family, and the hierarchy and the compensations that a community could offer with regard to extended family relationships and childcare. Should one home become too demanding, it would seem the Samoan girl could just upsticks and move to another nicer one, and it is not only parents who make the decisions about a child's future, everyone has a say.
I'm sure we may still tend to think that the way we do this whole family thing here in the west is the only way to do it, but hoaxes aside Margaret Mead makes some startling observations as she contrasts the 'rewards of the tiny, ingrown, biological family' with its closed circle of affection and strong ties between parents and children implied in cradle to grave attachment. There are interesting ideas about how such systems may foster dependent children and ties which may bind, rather than release to explore, because of the intensity of the emotional relationship and the demands it makes..
I guess it all means we have to work that much harder at letting go.... we are r-e-a-l-l-y (not) struggling here with the silence of the washing machine, the constant fullness of the larder, having boiled eggs for tea when we feel like it and the infrequent trips to the supermarket I can tell you. To say nothing of how much I miss not being woken at 5am or tripping over the great big boots. Dear of him, the Gamekeeper is very happy in his lovely cosy cottage where he is now King of his own Rayburn.
And of course perhaps those aspects of Coming of Age in Samoa finally felt more relevant to me at this time thirty five years later, having read it first time around when I had no idea whether I would ever be a mother. But as I sat on the floor in the midst of the happily emptying nest having recently read This is Paradise by Will Eaves, a novel which puts an ordinary family under the microscope, it all gave me really enjoyable thinking time.
Does anyone else remember reading Coming of Age in Samoa??
And does anyone know what the final verdict is on the book, the veracity of the research, and Margaret Mead's reputation ??