Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Domestic Lessons from Vintage Fiction: A Repost

Vintage fiction has been my treasure trove for figuring out how to put together a homemaking life. Old housekeeping manuals will give you out-dated specifics about how to iron or polish the silver the way it was done in the thirties or forties, but it's the mentioned-in-passing daily routine that fascinates me so deeply. 

Here's what I have learned about a domestic life, courtesy of Grace Livingston Hill, L.M. Montgomery, and their ilk:

Homemakers have work to do.
 They get up early and make breakfast, since someone in the family needs sustenance before catching the trolley for a long day at the office. Homemakers have a plan for each day's special tasks. There's really no time to sit around; running a home is a demanding undertaking.

Homemakers dress the part.
 Need to make beds and clean? Try slipping a little cotton gown right over your nice morning dress to keep it clean. Going out to shop? A smart knitted dress is just right. Staying in for a family dinner? A crimson housegown is just the thing.

Homemakers make things beautiful. 
A room isn't finished until it reflects the homemaker's love of beauty. A pot of primroses on the dinner table, an embroidered bureau cover on the bedroom chest of drawers, a clean dresser scarf on the buffet in the dining room--creating a home takes attention to detail.

Homemakers think hard about meals.
 The planning and cooking of meals is an endeavor worthy of time and energy. Meals should be prepared with each day's needs in mind. Are the boys working hard on building a porch? Chocolate cornstarch pudding for dessert, as it can be eaten quickly, and people can get back to their project. No matter what else is going on, careful and appropriate attention must be paid to feeding the family.

Homemakers find out what they need to know.
 New to the neighborhood and don't know where to shop? Just follow the neighbor lady carrying the basket over her arm. Raised in splendor but married now to a working man? Take a cooking course. One of the privileged elite but ready to do your part for the war? Take that night course in practical nursing.

Homemakers can weather hard times. 
When money gets tight, they suck it up and move to the unelectrified shack in that rundown part of town and set out daffodils. When the bank fails they get the kerosene lamps and the oil stove out of the attic, and start cooking plain but delicious food. When the apartment's going to be demolished, they cheerfully move into a spacious stone barn for the summer.

Homemakers are indispensable. 
If mother can't do it, someone else must be found. There's no such thing as a family that runs itself, with every member gone to work or school every day. Without a guiding presence in the house, things go down deep and fast.


Cat said...

True, I have seen this before, but I enjoyed it again!

Kara said...

One of my favorites. Thank you so much for all you share of yourself.


Unknown said...

All the same reasons I love vintage fiction. Running a home is hard work, but lovely work, too.

The Snyders said...

So sweet. Thanks for sharing


krankemommy said...

Thank you for a very appropriately timed post, I needed it! I also wanted to thank you for repeatedly showing the beauty in the mundane and the joys of being at home; it makes your blog my favorite blog of all time because it's such a peaceful place to be.

Sarah said...

I love this post! Grace Livingston Hill is one of my favorite authors. She has often inspired me in my homemaking. In fact just the other evening my dinner was inspired by the simple meal described in "The Christmas Bride". : ) She has a way of making the most simple aspects of life sound appealing!

Anonymous said...

I remember you sharing, a little sewing, a little reading, a little walking, a little baking...well, as you can see I do not remember how or exactly what you shared about a daily routine, could you please share again? it would be most helpful...
Thank you :-)

Margo said...

thank you for this post! A real boost to the homemaker, who is sadly misunderstood these days (and sometimes even she misunderstands her role).

Unknown said...

I love this... I wish people today would take as much care in homemaking as they did when this was written. Thank you for sharing it!

Laura said...

Like you, I'm kind of obsessed with how women of the past did things... I find lots of bits and pieces about vintage housekeeping, but I'm always left wondering how mothering fits in (specifically, mothering of little ones). Have you come across any clues?

Anonymous said...

That was helpful. I think I need to print it out for myself. I love how it echoes Proverbs 31.

Julie said...

Love this! I think I may print this and hang it to remind me of the importance of home and the homemaker!

Rebekah said...

A wonderful post, full of timeless wisdom. I particularly like the bit about the homemaker as guiding presence. What a blessing and a responsibility! As Anne says, "There is so much on a person's mind when they're housekeeping."

Farrah said...

Thank you for reposting this. Mrs. Montgomery and Mrs. Hill were so inspiring for homemakers. I've recently lost my way a bit. 💙

Martina said...

This is so lovely! Thank you!
I love the reminder to rise early and to remember all this is hard work. Keeps me motivated.
I haven't commented in a long time, but I truly enjoy your blog and your beautiful photography.
Love from Germany, Martina

sherry said...

immediately i was reminded of
"The Enchanted Barn"
by Grace Livingston Hill

i read this book often so will put it on my bedside today. it's been a couple years.. if you'd like to read right away here's a link for the online book. :)

Anonymous said...

I've wanted to live in that "enchanted barn" ever since I first read it's story several years ago.... sigh : )

LOVE this. I am on an Isabella Alden kick now, after many, many GLHs.

Thank you so much for sharing. This is one of my longest loved and most favorite places on the web.

Leslie Anne Tarabella said...

I've read almost all of the Grace Livingston Hill books our library has because of your recommendation several years ago. I adore them, and especially love "Christmas Bride" since my Grandparents were also married on Christmas Day. My favorite line - can't remember if it was from that particular book or another was, "He touched her ungloved hand." The way it was written, it took my breath away!

Anonymous said...

oh, Anna. This convicts me to work as hard as my husband does. This is so encouraging.
Thank you for posting!

Eve said...

As a homemaker myself, I dearly appreciate your meditations on the craft; however, I do not believe we are justified in putting down families without a homemaker present. I grew up in a family with both mother and father away at work while my brother and I attended school. The state of our home did not "...go down deep and fast" year after year. These word feel hurtful to me and make me feel protective of my parents, who provided such a lovely, safe, and happy home for my upbringing.

Anna said...

Eve, I see your point, but the fictional stories I was drawing from generally have a mother completely missing--away in a sanatorium, bed-ridden at home, or deceased. In other words, completely unable to do any work at all. These stories are also full of spirited young women who do the best they can with small snippets of time. It's all about having your heart in the right place!

Laura Lane said...

I adore Grace Livingston Hill's books.

Marlaine said... the Grace Livingston Hill references, and the encouraging insights for homemakers. Thank you!

Vintage books have such a different feel. My basic little Kindle has acquired a lovely collection of free vintage titles from Amazon; lots of L.M. Montgomery and Louisa May Alcott. I happily discovered Mary Jane Holmes, just completed the entire Frances Hodgson Burnett collection, currently reading the Aunt Jane's Nieces series by L. Frank Baum. Fascinating peeks at homemaking and life from years gone by; lovely, pleasant reading for evenings by the fire. :-)

Leah H said...

I was going through a list of books from a book anthology that I was reading and I came across this book that I thought you would like.

I haven't read it yet but the blurbs about it reminded me of Grace Livingston Hill. If you've already posted about this, forgive my poor memory, haha!

Jennifer Hoots said...

Excellent! Thank you. I enjoy your blog immensely.

Anonymous said...

I highly recommend Mother by Kathleen Norris, also Aunt Jane's Hero by Elizabeth Prentiss. I love vintage fiction also and have read just about all GLH's books, my favourites over and over: The love stories are fine, but I too love the descriptions of the women who love their homes (Mrs. MacDonald in The Gold Shoe for one, the mother and daughter getting ready for Christmas in The Substitute Guest for another.

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