Keeping the House

I was thinking back on my 1950’s housewife post after listening to the audio book of Keeping the House by Ellen Baker.

Keeping the House

It is another of my chance stumble upons while browsing the library’s collection.

It is a story of a family throughout the 30 years they lived in a beautiful house in a small town in Wisconsin, and a young bride (Dolly) who falls in love with the home and becomes obsessed with the family’s story. Dolly is realizing that her dreams are not being met by keeping up her home. Interspersed are segments from women’s magazines saying that life of ironing shirts and cooking elaborate dinners is fulfilling.

Having been a young girl during the Women’s Liberation movement, the propaganda of the 1950s sounds very confusing to me – my historical mind wonders why a society want to infantilize half the population (a theme of the book), particularly with how instrumental women’s labor had been to the war effort? I can only imagine the feelings of “Now What?” coming from generations of bored, lonely housewives, especially those that had done important work in the past. I know the walls would eventually start closing in on me, and I’d try to join the woman in the yellow wallpaper, but I think I could enjoy it in short bursts, knowing that it would come to an end.

I have been a subscriber of Woman’s Day Magazine pretty much non-stop since I got married at 22. While I am not the target audience for most of the articles – I’m not married, I don’t have kid and I don’t use convenience foods – I find a strange comfort in the pages filled with diet tips and glossy dessert pictures.

In the time I’ve been reading them, I’ve noticed a major change in the writing. Now whenever writing about the reader’s doctor, Woman’s Day uses the pronoun “she.” It is the same for other professions. What a wonderful shift from their more beautiful home roots.

In listening to Dolly’s longing for adventure and meaning in life, I realized that the only time in which the work I love doing – cooking from scratch, putting food up, gardening – was truly valued was either in pioneering situations or on a farm. Women’s labor meant the difference between making it through the winter of not. Hmmmmmmm….

Am I the only reader of women’s magazines? or Has anyone else read The Yellow Wallpaper?

2 thoughts on “Keeping the House”

  1. I remember reading the Yellow Wallpaper. Other than it being about a girl going crazy, I don’t remember much about it. Although I did recently read something related to the Women’s Lib movement. I read “A Room of One’s Own” by Virginia Woolf. Written in the 20s, she talked about how women have been sidelined from writing fiction because of the pressure they’re put under in being housewives. I’m paraphrasing it a lot of course, it goes into more details than that, but it’s an interesting read.

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    1. You remembered the important part of the Yellow Wallpaper. I reread it last year, and was impressed by how well she did in showing instead of telling about the insanity slowly engulfing her.

      I’ll definitely put A Room of One’s Own on my list of books to read. I’ve never read any of Woolf’s works, so this should be a good introduction. Thank you!

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