Thursday, June 12, 2008


House-Bound by Winifred Peck begins with an interesting premise. Rose Fairlaw, a lady of leisure in Castleburgh, Scotland in 1942 has come to find that the office that supplies domestic workers has no one to supply. The women who had previously worked as domestics, have gone off to join the war effort and left Rose and other ladies like her with houses difficult to care for and no one to help. Rose considers moving to a hotel- can you imagine the idea? - but decides against it. She makes the unpopular decision to take care of her home herself. Unpopular with her friends as well as her family who want their mother to be 'a lady' and not a woman with rough hands.

Rose begins her new endeavor. It was amazing to me the sort of detail that was paid to every bit of the house. Perhaps this is because I am quite a poor housekeeper myself! Obviously it would be difficult if not impossible to maintain the standards of cleanliness and formality to have one unskilled person doing everything rather than many skilled people. But Rose tries to maintain and comes to resent her husband a bit for what seems an easy life - go to work and to the club, expect to arrive home to a hot bath and meal. Rose finds herself identifying with women of working class background, understanding what they go through. I really enjoyed this part of the book. It had a degree of humor that reminded me a bit of Monica Dickens' One Pair of Hands. Rose did get a bit of help with the house, which bothered me a bit, though I suppose she really did need some training.

Rose seems to have gotten a bit of a handle on things when we begin to learn more about her background and family including Flora, Rose's only daughter. Rose admits to herself that she never paid proper attention to Flora nor really got to know her. At one point Rose thinks , metaphorically speaking, that "All her doors and windows are locked and shuttered, and I've never been inside since she was a baby." Quite sad, really. Even more sad when we come to know Flora and what a disagreeable person she is. It is hard to know which came first - Flora's temperament or her mother's neglect. In any case, she is one of the most unpleasant characters I've come across. I didn't enjoy this part of the book quite as much. I think it was partially me and being tired and partially Flora.

I do find this novel a fascinating social document, being that it was published in 1942, and this is really what was going on in Britain and Scotland at the time. From what I understand, the lack of domestic help that had always been there changed lives for many people. For women like Rose, this situation sent them back into the home to care for their homes and family. For women that would previously have gone into service, they were afforded the opportunity to make their own way instead of cleaning up after others.

Well, I am a lady that need to clean her house and how well that will be done remains to be seen!


Carrie K said...

That sounds like a pretty interesting look into a slice of the past! Minus Flora.

Cornflower said...

I did enjoy Housebound. Castleburgh is of course my home town, Edinburgh, so I recognise some of the locations, but more than that, it was an involving story for many reasons - the domestic situation, the class system, the depiction of family life. I do recommend it.

Fay Sheco said...

The book by Judith Flanders, Inside the Victorian Home has been on my shelf for an age. Housebound looks like it would make a good companion read with that one, even though the period is different.

Lisa said...

This sounds good. I love this type of social history in a novel.

StuckInABook said...

That sounds really interesting - can't remember if it's one of the Persephones I've got. Reminds me a little of Lady Rose and Mrs. Memmary, also Persephone (but not a big blog classic, as far as I can tell).

Tara said...

Sheesh! Sorry, I usually don't take this long to respond to comments.

Carrie, exactly!

Karen, I think a story set in one's hometown is always more endearing, somehow.

Fay, I emailed you - I loved the book you mentioned.

Lisa, I do too!

Simon, no, I haven't seen Lady Rose...much around the blogs, though it is one on my wishlist.