I was out running errands today in the neighboring town of Burlingame, and at the end of my list of errands I had about 45 minutes of spare time before I needed to pick up Tom and Huck from school. I didn’t want to go all the way back home, which is across town from school, so after my last errand, I stopped into the Burlingame library. I took my time and browsed in the fiction section and found several “domestic” type novels I’d long wanted to read. Not to be confused with the romance genre, “domestic literature is both gentle and gently rewarding… Domestic novels reveal the textures of women’s lives and the infinite possibilities and permutations of the domestic space.” (Jane Brocket, The Gentle Art of Domesticity). While I suppose some might view domestic novels as old-fashioned books that depict women in various forms of household drudgery, nothing could be further from the truth. When I am busy and preoccupied by other things, as I often seem to be these days, I find domestic novels comforting, encouraging, and often humorous. The housewife heroine, particularly one with a sense of humor, can be as much a feminist as any other type of woman. Are domestic novels a bit formulaic and isn’t their main appeal escapism? Sure. Nothing wrong with that. One can’t read bibliographies and bookseller memoirs all the time.
One of the books I found today I’ve written about before — E.M. Delafield’s The Provincial Lady. I
lent gave my copy to a friend and decided I wanted to read it again. I made my way up to the third floor of the library, to the Fiction section, which was abandoned except for me. I was delighted to locate a whole shelf full of Delafield’s books in their first U.S. editions! True, as library copies, they are a little worse for wear, but since I can only borrow them and can’t buy them, condition is immaterial. I can read and enjoy them in their first edition formats and then return them for another reader to discover. What fun!
I borrowed Delafield’s The Provincial Lady and The Provincial Lady in Wartime. I then found a book with a charming cover that looked like fun, so I decided to check it out, too. The book is Mrs. ‘Arris Goes to Paris. As an added treat, these books have other things that betray their age — each still has a card pocket inside of it. (Most libraries here in the Bay Area, and, I presume, elsewhere, have transitioned to RFID and bar codes. It was fun to “discover” these hidden gems on the shelves today. Here are a few photos:
The very cute, Mrs. ‘Arris Goes to Paris, by Paul Gallico. “For every woman who ever wanted the most beautiful dress in the world and for every man who wanted to give it to her.” A London charwoman, Mrs. ‘Arris goes to Paris to get herself a Dior gown. Merriment and adventure ensue.
Inside of E.M. Delafield’s The Provincial Lady. (Apparently last checked out in — sigh — 2004!)
The charming little card pocket is still in the book. This one gives instructions on the payment of overdue fines and usage of books and library cards.
For a company that specializes in modern reprints of vintage domestic fiction, check out England’s Persephone Books. From their website: “Persephone prints mainly neglected fiction and non-fiction by women, for women and about women. The titles are chosen to appeal to busy women who rarely have time to spend in ever-larger bookshops and who would like to have access to a list of books designed to be neither too literary nor too commercial. The books are guaranteed to be readable, thought-provoking and impossible to forget. We sell mainly through mail order, through selected shops and we have our own shop.”
See you in the stacks!