Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Reading Domestic Fiction...

"Domestic literature is both gentle and gently rewarding... Domestic novels reveal the textures of women's lives and the infinite possibilities and permutations of the domestic space." ~Jane Brocket

I mentioned a couple of days ago that, in need of something comforting and domestic, I began reading Fresh From the Country, a Miss Read book. I'm just finishing that book now and was pondering what to read next. Because there is currently much going on at home and more than a few distractions in my life, I'm not looking for something serious, academic, or intellectual to read. Instead, I'll continue reading what is light and fun but that also offers something to chew on or to inspire me in a good direction.

As I was thinking about this, I remembered the section in The Gentle Art of Domesticity called "The Domestic Library" and how appealing Jane Brocket's descriptions were of her favorite domestic novels. This is where Brocket lists "some of the books (she chooses) to read when in need of encouragement, inspiration, and laughter."

I've already read a few of the books on this list. One of them, Mrs. Miniver, is a favorite, and I liked the heroine so well that I used her name as my pen name for our secret, just-for-fun, family newsletter. I think my view of Mrs. Miniver, though, is a combination of her character in the book and the portrayal of her in the movie (which is slightly different from the book). At any rate, I used the Mrs. Miniver name again for my little used, family-only blog, "Coffee With Mrs. Miniver."

I've read another book on Jane Brocket's domestic reading list-- Jane Eyre-- but most of the others, I haven't. I haven't even heard of some of them, probably because they're written by British authors who are somewhat obscure in the U.S.

A book that is not on Jane's list, but that I would put somewhere near the top of my own "fine domestic reading" list is Excellent Women by Barbara Pym, another British writer. Excellent Women is an excellent book! Miss Read is fun and light and worthy for good, clean, uplifting reading, but Excellent Women is more literary. I think that Pym's writing is wonderful. I've meant to locate more books by her (our sad public library shelves held no other Pym books), and now I'm reminded to do so.

The Miss Read books may be something akin to the Mitford books in literary quality, but I'm just guessing about that because I haven't read Mitford. I've tried, but, for some reason, I haven't been able to get through that first book. I'm determined not to pronounce judgment on the series, though, until I actually finish at least one of the books because there are too many people whose opinions I respect that love reading Mitford. George Grant and Lauren Winner, to mention two. (It was actually George Grant's positive review in World magazine many years ago that introduced me to Miss Read.)

Kathie from
Island Sparrow recommended D.E. Stevenson to me in the comment box. I've never read Stevenson, but Kathie knows her stuff when it comes to books, so I'll trust her opinion on this. I know there are some good bloggers who love Grace Livingston Hill, like Anna at Pleasant View Schoolhouse and Michele at Cherish the Home. I don't know Grace Livingston Hill's writing, and I think I would have brushed her off as being merely another mediocre Christian romance writer, but apparently there's more to her than that. (I'll be straightforward and say that I do not go into Christian bookstores. I'm just not interested in anything I see there, even the popular modern Christian fiction writers, though these books are recommended to me by friends again and again.)

In the comment box below, we touched on inspiring, heartwarming, cozy, domestic scenes in children's literature, and that is a worthy topic of its own! I can certainly say that my own children have great fondness for the books that give them a warm and cozy feeling-- anything in a story involving tea and cakes, sitting cozily in front of a warm, glowing fire while rain or snow falls heavily, cheerful rooms and domestic work, pleasant rituals and routines of home, nice meals together, etc. In fact, I'd say that this element is present, in varying ways and to varying degrees, in most of the books my kids would call their favorite childhood books. The Wind in the Willows, Brambly Hedge, Swallows and Amazons, Gone Away Lake, Narnia, and countless others. But the topic here is the domestic novel featuring the grown woman, so I'll not take a detour into children's books!

Following is a list of books and authors Jane Brocket (who has undergraduate and graduate degrees in French, Russian, and Victorian literature) loves and recommends for good domestic reading. Obviously, there are other authors of domestic novels that make good reading, but these are the ones Brocket mentioned in her books (she often recommends the entirety of these authors' works and not just the titles on her list). I don't know some of these novels. If you do, and you have an opinion about them, I'd love to hear it:

Mrs. Miniver (Jan Struther, 1939)
They Knew Mr. Knight (Dorothy Whipple, 1934)
Jane Eyre (Charlotte Bronte, 1847)
Family Roundabout (Richmal Crompton, 1948)
Cranford (Elizabeth Gaskell, 1853)
The Diary of a Provincial Lady (E.M. Delafield, 1930)
The Home-maker (Dorothy Canfield Fisher, 1924)
At Mrs. Lippincote's (Elizabeth Taylor, 1945)

*Artwork featured at the top of this post is Roses (The Artist's Wife in the Garden at Skagen), 1948, by Peder Severin Kroyer (Danish, 1851-1909).