Monday, 17 January 2011

House-bound (Winifred Peck)

Over the last two months, I've been doing a lot of rereading. I used to reread books constantly as a child as supply of books could never keep up with the demand, and I realised that there are lots of books on my shelves which I have only read once. In frugal circumstances where I am trying to buy less books, and in busy times where I am only getting to the library about once a week, re-reading is just perfect. It is lovely to revist books which were enjoyed first time around and enjoy them again. Many of the books which I have been rereading are Persephone books. When I first came across the publisher, I could not afford to buy many of them, so I checked the Persephone catalogue against the library catalogue and borrowed those that were in stock, usually in old hardback editions. Now I have a nearly complete collection of Persephone books (all but 4) it is good to reread them in the Persephone edition, especially as the titles often have new introductions or afterwords. Plus I get to admire the beautiful endpapers.

I re-read House-bound at the end of last week. It's not one of the Persephone books which is that frequently mentioned which is one of the reasons I wanted to write about it here. The book tells the story of Rose as she and her household are affected by the war - the book is particularly interesting because being published in 1942, it was written during the war and not retrospectively. After difficulties in getting domestic servants, Rose decides that she will take on the running of the household herself. However, she has no domestic experience at all - she cannot even cook. Luckily, she manages to get hold of the wonderful Mrs Childes, a daily lady who comes in for 2 hours to give Rose a hand in the house and to provide instruction in how to clean/make lunch etc. Unfortunately, Mrs Childes is a bit of a mixed blessing as she insists on the proper way to do everything - which is quite an onerous task for someone new to domesti work, when perhaps Rose should be advised on short cuts. I did feel sorry for Rose coping with a husband who didn't seem to be of much assistance, but at the same time I felt that she rose splendidly to what was asked of her.

What I liked about this book is how it made me think about my own experiences of domesticity. As a child I helped out with the odd domestic task, the occasional bit of hoovering or cleaning the bath, and sometimes cooking, but not very much. When I came to university, my room was cleaned once a week (and my bin emptied every day), and I had meals provided by my college. I spent the summer between second and third year living in the flat where I live now, but it was in the process of being refurbished:

(I spent three months without any carpet, plaster or paint on the walls, without washing machine or wardrobe (the wardrobe is the suitcase you can see) or any bookcases (!), and with builders going in and out).
What I am trying to get towards saying is that it was not until I was 21 and suddenly working full-time that I had to try to get my head around being domesticated. It was difficult to know where to begin, but how much easier was it for me on my own in a 2 bedroom flat than it must have been for Rose in a house with streams of visitors and the expectations of her husband. I'd like to think that I am quite domesticated now - I am certainly very house-proud and enjoy trying to make meals out of nothing as well as baking creations. I very much hope that 2011 is the year when I will have a house of my own - I wonder if I will manage to be quite so domesticated with more space...


  1. I never had someone take care of my room once I moved out, and I admit it has been a struggle ever since. Especially with the vacuum cleaner, I HATE using it. But luckily, my bf does it in exchange for the laundry ;)

    I really enjoy rereading, maybe a bit too much for a book blogger? This sounds like a Persephone I would enjoy. I had never heard of it before..

  2. I can remember when I moved into my first flat with my husband (then my boyfriend). I hated it. I wasn't used to cooking or cleaning and it all came as a bit of a shock to me. It took a good couple of years before I could actually get into it.

    I don't do a lot of rereading, as I find I tend not to enjoy it as much as I did the first time around.

  3. I ordered this for myself as a late Christmas present and am eagerly awaiting its arrival. I loved hearing about your domestic evolution, though I'm now wishing I'd picked a University that had cleaning services! I've always loved housekeeping - cooking, cleaning, making things pretty and neat and pleasant for others - and have been mocked for it by my more modern friends who struggle to operate the stove. The hardest part about my otherwise joyful move back home has been giving up my lovely apartment and returning to my parents' home (also lovely, but not mine). I look forward to one day having a place of my own again.

  4. What a interesting sounding book?

    I quite liked 'playing house' when I was at home. Now on my own, it takes a while to get into a routine. But I am house proud and pleased with my domestic achievements!

  5. This is high on my list of Persephone TBRs, but I'm on a book-buying ban for the next few months. I'm sure it's a book I would enjoy as I am domestically challenged -- I can cook but I hate cleaning and always put it off until the last possible moment.

    And despite your rough lodgings, it looks like you had a cozy place to read next to the lovely window! Congratulations on toughing it out.

  6. What an interesting review and reflection! I had my first apartment at 18 when I went away to college (no dorms at the Pharmacy college back then) and have been improving my domestic skills over the last 30+ years. Have always loved cooking, baking, and general homemaking.

    As for rereading, I don't do it nearly often enough, but it's one of my resolutions. Can remember rereading Harriet the Spy almost every month for at least a year when I was around 10!

  7. Not once kids or cats arrive you won't!

  8. This is a title that I would really like to own one day.

    It never fails to amaze me how The Heiress can have a spotless room at her townhouse but demolishes her room at home in no time flat!

  9. I have that one in hardback, and it is a very good story.

    Today I re-read The Home-Maker, in the Persephone edition of this Dorothy Canfield Fisher title, highly recommended by me it must be in the top ten of Persephone books surely.


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