Who Does the Dishes?

Journal: 022

katherine-mansfield.jpg
Katherine Mansfield

Following on from my last, I got out of Sydney ok on Wednesday morning and dropped my trailers at Tolls, Perth late Friday, hopefully to be unloaded overnight. I’ve been asked to turn straight around, which I’ve agreed to, Milly’s away working on site till some time next week, but as I write, on Saturday morning, I’m yet to hear from work. Still, I can take today as a 24 hour break and leave this evening.

Despite what I wrote, I did pick up Mothers of the Novel for a while. The next authors after Aphra Benn are Delarivière Manley (1663-1724) and Eliza Haywood (1693-1756). Spender is furious that Manley worked with Jonathon Swift on the Examiner and succeeded him as editor, yet Swift is a celebrated satirist and Manley a forgotten ‘gossip-monger’. Alexander Pope describes her “as one of those shameless scribblers who, in libellous memoirs and novels reveal the faults and misfortunes of both sexes, to the ruin of public fame or disturbance of private happiness.” High, if unintended,  praise! Spender writes:

The entry I would like to see for Delarivière Manley in the history of letters would be as follows: A prolific and innovative writer who helped to develop the genre of fiction by her use of the epistolary form and her introduction of political satire.

I have Haywood’s The History of Miss Betsy Thoughtless (1751) which I had better not read until next year, until I have some Australian reading out of the way. So I will put off dealing with Haywood until then. But Spender, in lamenting that Manley and Haywood had family duties which made it difficult for them to earn an income from writing, includes by way of illustration this extract from a letter from Katherine Mansfield in 1913 to her lover, John Middleton Murry.

… the house seems to take up so much time if it isn’t looked after with some sort f method. I mean … when I have to clear up twice over or wash up unnecessary things I get frightfully impatient and want to be working. So often this week, I’ve heard you and Gordon talking while I washed dishes. Well, someone’s got to wash dishes and get food, otherwise – ‘There’s nothing in the house but eggs to eat”. Yes, I hate, hate, hate doing these things that you accept just as all men accept of their women. I can only play the servant with a very bad grace indeed. It’s all very well for females who have nothing else to do … and then you say I am a tyrant, and wonder because I get tired at night! The trouble with women like me is – they can’t keep their nerves out of the job in hand – and Monday after you and Gordon and Lesley have gone I walk about with a mind full of ghosts of saucepans and primus stoves and ‘Will there be enough to go round?’ …. and you calling (whatever I am doing) ‘Tig, isn’t there going to be tea? It’s five o’clock’ as though I were a dilatory housemaid.

I loathe myself today. I detest this woman who ‘superintends’ you and rushes about, slamming doors and slopping water – all untidy with her blouse out and her nails grimed. I am disgusted and repelled by the creature who shouts at you. ‘You might at least empty the pail and wash out the tea leaves!’ Yes, no wonder you ‘come over silent’.

Well that all sounds very familiar. I didn’t go down the pub, or gamble, and I cared for and cooked for the kids when Milly was at her (part-time, manual) work. But I had satisfying full-time employment and on-going education, doing degrees part-time throughout our marriage, and Milly had neither, and I made no effort to back off, or take over housework, to give her space to do either of those things. Milly is not one who “rushes about, slamming doors” but she did try to talk and I couldn’t or wouldn’t hear.

Nine am. Still haven’t heard. My washing’s done, I’d better pay some bills, I’d better go and check my PO box! There’s not much left to do except the library for more audiobooks. Food I can get at IGAs along the way, got some very sweet mandarines from a roadside stand a couple of days ago near Mildura.

Spender has made some remarks about the influence of the middle classes on eighteenth century writing, and when I have time that is what I will be following up next.

 

 

Recent audiobooks

Jeff Abbott (M, USA), Panic (2005)
Gillian Flynn (F,USA), Dark Places (2009)
Camille di Maio (F, USA), The Memory of Us (2016)

Currently reading

Dale Spender, Mothers of the Novel. 

10 thoughts on “Who Does the Dishes?

    • Yes, that was how I felt too (though I know nothing about Murry). I hope I never lay back in an armchair and called out to the kitchen. No, that’s too much to hope for, but I hope I’m doing something to make up for those years.

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  1. That’s a fantastic quote, and ties in nicely with my email signature quote doesn’t it?

    I also love Spender’s suggestion biographical entry for Manley. She sounds like someone I’d love to read. She – and the others – also remind me (us) of all the stories still out there waiting to be told by historians and biographers, or even by novelists and filmmakers.

    Is the next trip likely to take to Canberra or even Berrima? I’ll be there with a friend from midday Tuesday to midday Thursday. I’m sure she’d be happy to meet you too for a cuppa. (I have a deadline for leaving on Thursday as we have a concert that night, but …)

    BTW At least you did some cooking – you don’t have sons do you? I/we tried very hard to bring up our son to understand equality. I think he does … but I’ll be watching more closely now that he and his partner have a child.

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    • Girl, boy, girl. All competent cooks. If I’d left first thing this morning I’d have been in Canberra Mon night, due for a 24 hr break. But Dragan said wait, then he said go, but by then it was too late, so I’m down the beach having lunch and now it looks like the trailers I’m getting tonight are loaded for Nyngan.

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  2. I have managed to negotiate that feminist aim but myth of being paid to do housework! We had a cleaner but she was even less good at cleaning than me, and it took me more time out of my work to sort out before and after her, so now I give x hours once every two weeks to go through the house top to bottom and get paid per hour what we paid her per hour from our joint account. It makes it much easier to deal with being the one to do it because I work from home. Also the two times I’ve been incapacitated from medical issues, my husband has done all the housework and cooking, but I did it all the year he did his Master’s. I’m pretty lucky.

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