The Domestic Novel

By | June 28, 2006

I liked this essay by Amanda Craig. Very up my street.


Some quotes “Virginia Woolf mocked this standpoint: “This is an important book, the critic assumes, because it deals with war. This is an insignificant book because it deals with the feelings of women in a drawing room.”

“The domestic novel may no longer seem relevant. And yet, where else do most of us live? Where do most of the dramas, traumas and triumphs of our private lives take place? The home, and the family, is where we lead a great deal of our lives, particularly if we are women, and have children. ”

“Virginia Woolf imagined at the end of her great essay, A Room of One’s Own, asking an ordinary old woman what she remembered of her life, and said that apart from great national events, “she would remember nothing. “For all the dinners are cooked; the plates and cups washed; the children sent to school and gone out into the world. Nothing remains of it all. All has vanished. No biography or history has a word to say about it. And the novels, without meaning to, inevitably lie” because, said Woolf, “those infinitely obscure lives remain to be recorded.” ”

“They show what happens after the wedding bells are rung, and before adultery, divorce or bereavement. They seem to me to be taking any number of risks in holding up what they do, and in making up stories that are passionate, funny, stylish and sad. Furthermore, they shed light on an almost unnoticed tribe in the human race. For it is not only home-makers who get written out of the approved, masculine view of what are suitable subjects for literature. It is children. To me, the real tragedy of Anna Karenina’s life is not her loss of Vronsky or her suicide. It is her abandonment of her child. Dorothy Canfield Fisher was quite right to describe The Home-Maker as “a whoop not for ‘womens’ rights’ but for ‘children’s rights.” If you deny the domestic novel its place as serious literature, you deny not only the experience of women but that of children within the adult consciousness.”

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8 thoughts on “The Domestic Novel

  1. ben

    Virginia Woolf bored for England. Write about the feelings of women in drawing rooms by all means, but that doesn’t give you licence to be deathlessly dreary and dull.

    I can think of many books which are rather domestic in setting but are significant indeed — “Pride & Prejudice”, “A La Recherche Du Temps Perdu”, “An Beal Bocht”, anything by Thomas Hardy, “Lady Chatterly’s Lover”. Ginny might even have heard of a book called “War and Peace”, which would have completely upset her theory if she had read it by addressing both War *AND* the women in drawing rooms.

    Her whining about “denying the domestic novel its place as serious literature” is transparently just self-serving misrepresentation in an effort to defend the god-awful drivvel she put out.

  2. patry

    There’s something diminishing about the term “domestic novel,” don’t you think?

  3. Leon

    Are all Jane Austen’s novels significant. I didn’t think Sense and Sensibility was all that great. I wanted the Sensible one to do something reckless as well as the younger one to become less romantic.

    Were romantic sensibilities only created in the early 19th century? If so J A must have thought them bizarre.

  4. Sarah Post author

    My principal objection to Virginia Woolf is why Nicole Kidman was given an Oscar for wearing a fake nose to play her in The Hours. She’s an actress, so act for christ’s sake WITHOUT doing the ridiculous nose.
    I suppose I liked this line the best “”They show what happens after the wedding bells are rung, and before adultery, divorce or bereavement.”. There is a great drama there. But the big prizes don’t go to those books. Unless they take place in India, or something.

  5. tom

    “”Happy families are all alike”, said Tolstoy, famously : and erroneously, for those with happy families know that their forms are as varied as the unhappy kind.”

    got Mr. Tolstoy bang to rights there. what a superbly pedantic comment.

  6. Gerry

    surely that’s an objection to Nicole Kidman,. Bit harsh to blame VW for how she is portrayed in a film made years after she’d dead?

    Having read the full piece Ben, Craig’s point seems to be that the modern British reader seems to have difficulty in appreciating the domestic novel (this is not an essay btw but something called the Persephone lecture, hence she keeps going on about books they publish).

    I think Craig’s main aim was to encourage the publishers to look for more novels from this perspective, Fair enough, but i wasn’t aware of the lack. I am sure if people write good ones people will read them, but it would seem that there is a surfiet of bored middle class housewives writing deathly dull and depressed books about being ethically challenged in owning a SUV (because it’s safer for the kid(s)). I am basing this on this – from the lecture
    “Earlier this year, however, two well-known young novelists, Ali Smith and Toby Litt, claimed that the submissions they received for an anthology of new writing were dull, depressed and domestic : as if, they said, “too many women writers had been injected with a special drug that keeps them dulled, good, saying the right thing, aping the right shape and depressed as hell”

    This is breaking my rule of ignoring anything said by a Toby, St John, Piers, or Zac.

  7. Ray

    If domestic means taking place in the home, then there are millions of domestic novels, many of them award-winners. Probably more novels than there are set in the workplace.
    The big problem is that she says she wants novels about happy families, after the wedding and before the adultery, death, or divorce. But what’s her central example? A novel about an unhappy family, where the husband is paralysed, and the wife enters the world of work. D’oh!

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