Literary Home-making

Literary Home-making

Parallels between fiction writers of the past and Grammy’s life:

Looking at: Grandfather’s Broadaxe And Other Stories of a Maine Farm Family By C.A. Stephens

Farmer’s life in the late 19th c. (1870-1890 – Leon’s grandparents and parents’ experience)

Earn your keep in childhood

Maine Schoolhouse 1890

1 room schoolhouse, then academy

Girls: can fruits, vegetables; salt and pickle meat for winter; make candles (meat suet rendered into tallow); make cheese to trade in market

Sanford, ME Milking 1905

Tin Smith Shop: made kitchen utensils

Harness Shop: Harnesses, saddles, leather

Cobblers: made, repaired shoes from cowhide

Blacksmith: Shooed horses and made farm tools from iron

Gristmill: take your grain to be ground into flour

Log Drive, Maine, 1894

Hemlock Logs: men polling down river

Dutiful = core value

Apple trees, bees, stone walls, crows

Grassy lane, wheel ruts, pin in gate

Lyon Hill Farm c. 1900

Woodshed links house and stable

Sheds, sties, corncrib on stilts

Boys/guns; girls inside

Farm: Men: till and lumber; women: dairy, geese, poultry

Apple pie/luncheon

3 pm: women in sitting room

Corn Husking 1900

Currant bushes, bean-poles in line, bee house, Concord grape trellises

“Hold corn”: cultivator for corn; loaded on a “drag” in corn crib

Flower boxes; “spade up” flower beds

Bartlett pears, beets, carrots, turnips

County Fair: Show produce

Red and Black Cherry trees

Wild strawberries in fields

“Spruce beer”

Counting sheep: Marked by cropped ears or red paint on fore shoulder or rump

“Salt” the sheep; 6 quart pail with salt

Barn: Hay bays, grain scaffolds, old beams

Haying: Monday after July 4th: Hot, sweaty, rush “haster” to beat thunderstorms; pay             $2-$3 per day; least favored job: long hours, hot July sun, heat of close lofts;  risk of sunstroke; need “nooning” (2 hours off)

Hayfields: clover, herds-grass, buttercup, daisy, timothy

Haying in Maine, 1910

Sharpen scythe on grindstone

Rake, spread, stow in barn

Women: Make butter and cheese, then to field, haying

Hay: 4-5 tons to rake; woman on cart; men pitch hay to her; she treads it down; rake “scatterings from the tumbles”

Woman: sunhat tied under chin; white waist blouse and blue denim skirt

Fill opposite ends of rack first, keep middle low

Difficult hay is “podgum”: wild grass – short, sedgy

Later: Mowing machines and Horse Rakes

4:30 am: milk cows, barn chores before breakfast

Snakeroot Plant

Snakeroot: antidote to over-hydration

Oxen scared by bees

Apples: Winesap, Sweet Harvey, Porters, Sweet Greenings, Baldwin, R.I. Greenings

Woodhouse: 10 0r 12 cords of wood sawed short and split, piled loosely

Wood plank walk

“Yarn Cupboard”: small, high cupboard with little panel door, set in wall near             fireplace in sitting room: for woolen balls and yarn hanks for darning and knitting

May Baskets

Fried Pies: Gooseberry, peach, raspberry, blackberry, preserved cherry, mincemeat,  stewed apple, plum

-pits, stones removed

-Edges of doughnut dough: wet, crimped together so pie wouldn’t open while frying

-Big pan of fat, smoking hot

-Pie dipped in to float; careful of explosion; easily burned; cover eyes (goggles) and arms

-make 3 dozen plus 2 “Jonahs” (surprise pie with bitter fruit or pepper; game: must eat it or crawl under table)

Lay in supply of “pie timber” for winter

Wish list for farmer: new carpets, new parlor furniture, fresh coats paint on farm buildings, new cupolas, gilt vanes on barn and carriage house, new buggy for church, new dress

Bee smoking: Hive: bellows, tin can, live coal and punk wood

Looking at: Fiction of the Home Place: Jewett, Cather, Glasgow, Porter, Welty, and Naylor by Helen Fiddyment Levy

This Digital Essay is like a granddaughter sewing a quilt from family cloth:

p. 28   “The quilt expresses…how the female narrative grows out of female memory….In the refashioning of old, emotion-imbued materials – the quilts are often stitched together of scraps of cloth from central events of beloved lives – into new forms of art, the author daughters discover the link between their self-conscious art and their grandmothers’ lives.”

This Digital Essay parallels women writers of fiction in late 19th c and early 20th c :

p. 29    Common Goal seen in: “their evocation of reworked myth and ritual, their recourse to a communal language, their valorization of the domestic arts, and their re-creation of a pastoral female home….”

p. 33   Social History of Fran’s 1920s:

-Move away from multi-generational homes

-Move to value nuclear family

-Head of household = male

-Isolated homes

-Science of the Kitchen

-Emphasis on commercial Goods and Services

p. 49   Re: Sarah Orne Jewett’s novel, The Country of the Pointed Firs, about women’s lives in the fictional Dunnet Landing, a small coastal town in southern Maine in the late 19th century:

-Innovative structure – linked stores: “The text is pieced together like the quilt, each individual memory or voice united by the female artist into a distinctive work, which expresses both the creator and her community.”

– The novel “seems not so much produced as it appears to rise organically, almost magically, from the female realm to which the narrator learns to listen….”

p. 62     SOJ’s Firs is the “earliest example of the author-daughter’s journey back to her own tradition.”

Read Sarah Orne Jewett’s The Country of Pointed Firs online:

Looking at: The Home Plot: Women, Writing, and Domestic Ritual

By Ann Romines, U Mass Press, Amherst, 1991

p. 5  From Harriet Beecher Stowe’s The Minister’s Wooing:     “To her who has faculty nothing shall be impossible. She shall scrub floors, wash, wring, bake, brew, and yet her hands shall be small and white; she shall have no perceptible income, yet always be handsomely dressed; she shall not have a servant in her home  — with a dairy to manage, hired men to feed, … unheard-of pickling and preserving to do ….”

Stowe’s rendering both honors and gently mocks the ideal of domestic competence, the seemingly effortless managing of endless chores (while always leaving time to read a book)…

p. 7. Examples of novels described as  “women-identified realism.” They “probe the complex human activity by which women shape their lives and within which they have discovered their powers, limits, restrictions, and connections as female and human….”:

Sarah Orne Jewett, The Country of Pointed Firs

Willa Cather, Shadows on the Rock

Mary Wilkins Freeman, A New England Nun and Other Stories

Eudora Welty, Long Battles

[Read my favorite story from Mary Wilkins Freeman: “The Revolt of Mother”:]

p. 14. In women-identified realism housekeeping is Ritual, Social, Individual, and Art

p. 52. The “literature of housekeeping” became a phenomenon in 19th century women’s magazines. Housework provides continuity from one generation of women to another.

Domestic Science Lab

p. 53.  Tension between 19th century oral tradition and 20th century “domestic science movement” which was seen as competitive and emphasizing individual over community.

p. 76. Over her writing desk, Sarah Orne Jewett pinned this quote form Gustave Flaubert (author of Madame Bovary, an 1857 early realistic novel about a woman who has adulterous affairs and lives beyond her means in order to escape the banalities and emptiness of provincial life):

“Ecrire la vie ordinaire on ecrit l’histoire.”      (To write the ordinary life is to write history.) Romines comments: “History, of course, validates what it records.”


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