The Home-Maker Ahead of Its Time and Possibly of Ours

Cover of The Home-Maker by Dorothy CanfieldAs Dorothy Canfield’s novel The Home-Maker opens, Eva Knapp is scrubbing the kitchen floor, seething at the price of cleaning powder and the ingratitude of her family for not appreciating  her hard work.

Eva’s hatred of housework is making her and her whole family physically and emotionally ill.

Lester Knapp hates his department store bookkeeping job as much as Eva hates being home.

When Lester loses first his job and then the use of his legs, Eva uses her store experience and knowledge of people to get a sales position at the store which had fired Lester.

Lester becomes the home-maker, relishing time with the three children as much as Eva hated it. He realizes, “There was no sacrifice in the world which [Eva] would not joyfully make for her children except to live with them.”

That a man could be more nurturing than a woman is startling for 1924, and the descriptions of each parent interacts with each child are extraordinary.

Despite its unethical ending, which I’ll leave readers to discover, The Home-Maker ranks with  A Tree Grows in Brooklyn on my must-read list for parents, teachers and concerned neighbors.

The Home-Maker
By Dorothy Canfield [Fisher]
NY: Grosset & Dunlap, 1924
320 pages
1924 bestseller #10
My grade: A

© 2014 Linda Gorton Aragoni

The Coast of Folly Explores the “Compulsion of Failure”

Jelly fish washed up on sandy beach
“Directionless and flabby. Jellyfish washed up on the coast of folly.”

Coningsby Dawson’s The Coast of Folly explores a real but rarely discussed individual and social problem: the extent to which individuals are responsible not only for their behavior but for the impression their behavior is likely to give others.

Dawson sets the story when America was reeling from the social upheavals caused by World War I and drowning its disillusionment in bootleg liquor.

All summer, unattached Joyce Gathway’s too-rich-to-work friends have paired her with Larry Fay whose wife has begun divorce proceedings against him. Their relationship has remained open and friendly, but both know it could easily descend into a sexual affair.

When a gossip columnist suggests Joyce will be named as co-respondent in the divorce, she is forced to acknowledge that the appearance of immorality is destructive even among her peers who speak of conventional morality with disdain.  Her grandfather says people like Joyce aren’t deliberately wicked, “merely directionless and flabby. Jellyfish washed up on the coast of folly.”

The novel follows Joy’s attempts to see whether her behavior was wrong and how to repair the damage she’s done. Dawson calls this  “the compulsion of failure.”

Although The Coast of Folly is dated in many ways and the plot overtly contrived, the questions Joyce has to answer are questions all young adults need to answer for themselves.

The Coast of Folly
By Coningsby Dawson
Grossett & Dunlap, 1924
341 pages
1924 bestseller #8
My grade: B+
 

Still photos from the 1925 movie version of the novel here suggest some of the ways the novel appears dated today.

Photo credit: “Jelly Fish” by Liessel

©2014 Linda Gorton Aragoni