The Sunday Salon-A Domestic Life

The Sunday

I fear the Sunday Salon  is running a  bit late today.  I’ve been in a rather domestic mood all morning (something that happens only rarely these days), busy pottering in the kitchen making brunch for us.  When the Mushroom-Asparagus quiche comes out of the oven, perhaps your first bite with make up for my late entrance.  It is beginning to smell delightful!

Perhaps this flurry of domesticity has been inspired by my reading this week.  I’m in the midst of re-reading one of my favorite novels – Men and Angels, by Mary Gordon.   When I first read this novel (which was published in 1985) I was a young, stay at home mother.  I think reading it again has reminded me of those days, when my life was much more domestic in orientation.

The novel centers around the story of a young mother, Anne Foster, an art historian, who has just taken on the most challenging job of her career – writing the catalog for a major exhibition of Caroline Watson, a (fictional) American painter of the early 20th century.  Anne’s husband, a college professor, is spending a year in France, and she has chosen to remain behind with their two children in order to pursue this opportunity. 

Enter Laura, a young woman Anne hires as a mother’s helper.  Laura unsettles Anne from the first moment they meet, and a curious relationship develops between the two women as Anne relies on Laura to care for her children, while struggling with her feelings of animosity toward the girl.  What Anne senses, but doesn’t quite comprehend, is that Laura is a deeply distrurbed young woman, a religious fanatic who has undertaken to “save Anne” as her life’s mission.   

So much of this novel is about motherhood, its power and potential.  When mother love fails the results can be disastrous.  As a young mother reading this novel for the first time, I was at once amazed and terrified of the possibilities resulting from too little -or too much love.

“It was such an odd thing, motherhood,” Anne thinks.  “It wasn’t a skill: there was no past practice to be consulted and perfected by strict application and attention to detail; there was no wisdom you could turn to; every history was inadequate for each new case was fresh – each new case was a person born with a nature more fixed than modern thought led people to believe.  She loved that, that her children were not tabulae rasae, but had been born themselves.”

Anne is perhaps, the only “good” mother we meet in this book – her own mother favored Anne’s sister in an obvious and compelling way; Caroline Watson, “could not love” her son, her rejection ultimately destroying him; and Laura’s mother constantly pushed the child away, figuratively and literally, admonishing her “not to hang on me,” to “go outside and blow the stink off yourself.” 

Anne puts her children first at all times, and is preoccupied with keeping them safe.  And though she’s engulfed in  this new work of hers, she equally cherishes her domestic life, that “other life, beautiful and heavy scented as the dark fruit that grew up in shadow, the life of the family.”

I’ve been drawn to re-read this book several times, perhaps because I feel a great affinity for Anne, perhaps because of Gordon’s rich, image laden prose, her painterly way of describing the most mundane domestic moments to the deepest emotions of the maternal heart.   Reading it as a young mother, Anne was someone to admire, too look to for inspiration.  Reading it again some years later, when I was actually Anne’s age, I could identify with her experice on a much deeper level.

Of course Anne never ages, but I’m now 15 years older than her character in the book, my child is grown up, independent, and happily functioning in his own life.  My most important duties as a mother have, for the most part, been successfully fulfilled.  So I read Anne’s story once again with a gentle smile of knowing and understanding, wishing I could reassure her with a friendly hug that “all will be well.”

Oh, there goes the oven timer… I believe our quiche is done!  I’m always a bit anxious when trying a new recipe, but this appears to have turned out marvelously.  (yum)

What could be better on a Sunday afternoon, than a delicious slice of domestic life?


14 thoughts on “The Sunday Salon-A Domestic Life

  1. I am just now getting around to doing the laundry, and so my domesticity hasn’t been the high order of the day. When it is though, I feel like I accomplish so much more by the end of the day. Although, my domestic moods never involve cooking, something I abhor and only do if I must, which fortunately isn’t very often thanks to my husband who does enjoy spending time in the kitchen. I envy those who find pleasure in cooking. And gardening. Two skills I never did learn to love.

    I do not reread books often, but when I do, it is always interesting to see in what direction I approach the book, years in between readings. I have a longer list of books I perhaps will one day reread than a list of those I actually have reread.

    I hope you have a great week.

  2. I’m only getting to the Sunday Salon now–and it’s 7:30 p.m.!! I missed brunch (which sounded delicious)…I have “quiet” in my house — oldest has gone back to University until Easter break, youngest and his father have gone to his hockey game (son is in playoffs…2nd game). It’s bliss and I wanted to come and see what I had missed this morning.

    I like that you have read and re-read this book at different times in your own life and your own mothering experience. The mother’s helper sounds rather frightening…without even reading this, it makes me glad I was a stay at home mother and did it on my own!!

  3. Oooooh I just HAVE to read this book! I was intrigued when you mentioned it before and now I’m headed straight to amazon to see if I can get hold of a copy. Wonderful review, and yes please to quiche!

  4. I hope there’s still some quiche left, although I’ll have to enjoy it for Monday lunch. This book sounds wonderful, although I can see myself getting seriously angry with Laura. I hope Litlove won’t have taken the last Amazon copy. Perhaps the library will have it.

  5. What a lovely morning it sounds like you are having — and brunch sounds fabulous! You always introduce us to books I want to discover! I’m so glad I found your blog!

  6. Iliana – you’re supposed to be lazy on Sunday – it is a day of rest, after all ~

    Literary Feline-I’m no gardener either, and my cooking skills are not the high points on my resume! I hope you get around to your re-reading someday. It’s hard to find time with the continual outpouring of new books to contend with.

    Sherry – your quiet Sunday evening sounds blissful! My husband is always away on Sunday nights (he sings in a men’s choir that rehearses from 6-9), and I admit to enjoying the peace and quiet (no TV!) And yes, the mother’s helper in this novel is quite horrible. I’m also glad I didn’t have to deal with those problems.

    Litlove – as I was re-reading this, I was thinking how well this fits into your reserach on motherhood in literature. I hope you can locate a copy.

    Ann – it’s tempting to be angry with Laura, but she’s such a pathetic, unloved young woman, in some ways I just pity her. There is no happy ending for her either.

    Seachanges – I’m so flattered that you stopped in during your travels! Enjoy the trip, and I look forward to reading more about it on your blog.

    Jeanie – brunch was quite good, if I do say so myself 🙂 Yes, this book is an “oldie but goodie” in my stacks.

  7. Sounds like a very intriguing read. I’m not very domestic, the thought is a little scary right at the moment. Kids scare me, so I got a puppy instead!

    Your quiche sounds yummy! Glad you had a good weekend.

  8. Popped over here from Litlove’s blog and wanted to leave a hello. This sounds like a book I would enjoy. Rereading is one of the great joys of reading, wouldn’t you say, I look forward to rereading favorite books with almost as much excitement as my first read.

  9. Kim – Having had both puppies and children, I can tell you the former is quite good preparation for the latter 🙂

    Verbivore -Hello, and thanks for dropping by! I do enjoy re-reading, and always find something new in my visits with old friends.

  10. This book sounds wonderful, I am definitely going to have to keep an eye out for it. You write so beautifully about books you make me want to read everything!

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