The Home Maker, how could I leave it off my list and I am sure you are familiar with the story…
Evangeline and Lester Knapp, she trapped by an almost OCD approach to housework and child-rearing, he ‘bound and gagged’ by a dead end job, and their three children. Helen of the supposed delicate lungs and the supposed helpless impracticality. Henry of the phantom delicate digestion and the unnecessary special diet and then there is Stephen, three year old Stephen, the changeling child with his ‘hot little warrior heart’. The ‘perfect imp of darkness,’ the one who ‘arouses the white heat of anger in those trying to care for him.’
It is Stephen who needs his comfort object the most, his teddy, whilst living with the constant threat and fear of it being put through the wash.
(Pausing to explain. I had intended to take a teddy with me to London but completely forgot to pack him, the picture you see here is Bimbo,my second-best teddy, the previous one is Fred. I had to improvise with an imagined teddy. And to further explain the absence of eyes...do you recall they were glass on the end of a sharp stalk of wire? They were removed, probably for safety reasons and when I was old enough to put them back in both bears looked completely and utterly wrong and not mine, so they were always left eyeless.)
I had to think very carefully before bringing this teddy with me to London. It’s actually my second-best teddy, because when I looked at the best one, Fred Bear, now as old as me and very thread bare I couldn’t bring myself to risk a London trip for him. Supposing he got lost, or stolen…that’s how deeply entrenched the attachment goes, even 61 years on. I could hardly believe it myself and how well I remember the human feelings I invested in him. I was definitely on Stephen’s side over this one.
Evangeline…well where do we start.
Motherhood predicated on need, and if there isn’t one it must be created… think of Helen’s lungs and Henry’s digestion, and Stephen’s tantrums perpetuated and fuelled by a woman who makes a career out of motherhood. But perhaps it is about control too; when life feels out of your control you will try and control the bits of it that you possibly can, in Evangeline’s case this will be her husband, her children and her kitchen floor.
But she is also mother to an entire community…
‘Mrs Knapp had taken up the problem, what need for anyone else to think on it?’
And with that comes a welcome reciprocity, a sense of being valued and appreciated, the affirmation and gratitude that motherhood doesn’t bring. Evangeline is innovative and ingenious outside her home but paralysed into drudgery within.
Have you ever done one those Belbin Team Inventory questionnaires designed to identify which member of the team you are?
The Plant, or the Resource Investigator, the Shaper, or the Monitor Evaluator. I think I was the one who sat in the corner throwing out good ideas for others to follow through, but when I was once part of a dynamic but nevertheless failing team it was Belbin that revealed the problem. We didn’t have an Evangeline…a Completer Finisher. The CF sets their own high standards, may refuse to delegate through lack of trust, may worry excessively about minor details and poor Evangeline cannot complete or finish her children, they will always be a work in progress…
‘Eva hated anything unfinished.’
When the couple reverse their roles after Lester’s accident, Evangeline goes out to work. I see her as the original Colour Me Beautiful consultant with her natural flair for helping women to feel good about themselves, however limited their resources.
‘Dressing themselves properly at difficult ages…’
Lester runs the home, and the ill-fitting pieces of the fragmented and frankly dysfunctional family jigsaw suddenly slot neatly into place.
And how good that Dorothy Canfield Fisher prefigures some more research into attachment theory and the role of the mother..
Schaffer (1990…almost 70 years on)
"Children develop better with a mother who is happy in her work than a mother who is frustrated by staying at home."
Forgive my cynicism but perhaps one day the research might tell us something we don’t know.
It is all a salutary reminder that parenting has never been straightforward. It wasn’t then, it isn’t now. Dorothy Canfield Fisher advances the Montessori approach of allowing children to make choices and take responsibility for their subsequent actions, Lester unwittingly embraces this approach and the whole family thrives. He accentuates the positives, ignores the negatives, he is resourceful and the children become so too, and he sits back and allows them to discover for themselves.
The oft-quoted egg-whisk moment.
For the plethora of complex parenting approaches and parenting classes out there now surely Dorothy Canfield Fisher approach remains the simplest and the soundest.
Meanwhile The Home Maker endorses rights for women, rights for men and above all rights for the children… to be listened to, to be respected and for all to feel affirmed and confident with what they are doing. Self-determination for parents without outside interference was crucial to Dorothy Canfield Fisher’s outlook too, and in an introduction to an early edition of The Home Maker she expounds her theories on all this.
So far we have met three, maybe four mothers, Lena Wiltshire, Mrs Rawlings, Francie Osborne and Evangeline Knapp and as I thought about it, perhaps rather unfairly did I wonder whose mothering did the most harm to the children, and I wonder what you all think…
I decided it was, for me, the one who tried the hardest, Evangeline Knapp. Had those roles not been reversed the Munchausen-by-Proxy symptoms (now called Fabricated Ilnness in Children Caused by Carers or something, forgive my vagueness) she developed in her children would have been real cause for alarm, doing lasting damage.
But then perhaps Lena’s benign neglect or Mrs Rawling’s overbearing need to be a mother to Doreen in the face of rivals… perhaps those did equal harm.
Or perhaps we have to say that everyone was just doing what those of us who are mothers always try to do…the best we can with the circumstances that we are given.
At this point we stopped for lunch and Maggie and John's cake, gone to fast for a photo but here's their Port Eliot one, please help yourselves to a slice...
The fourth and final book to follow, and a quote from The Home Maker to give you a clue about my choice...
'Could there be human beings - women, mothers who fattened on it, fought to keep the slave's look in the eyes of the children?'