What I’ve been reading

I recently finished the D’Artagnan Romances. which consist of The Three (Scandalous) Musketeers, Twenty Years After and Vicomte De Bragelonne.  The last one is around 2000 pages and usually split up into three books called Vicomte De Bragelonne, Louise de la Valliere and The Man in the Iron Mask.  The evolution of the Musketeers from rascally 20somethings to middle-aged men to men just waiting to retire and/or die is quite fascinating.  And there is lots of drama and intrigue and action.  And something like 3500 pages total.

I am currently beginning the very long journey that is reading the unabridged (and also steam coming off the 1200+ pages “mature”) Count of Monte Cristo.

I also read some Dorothy Sayers, a couple of memoirs by a 1940s housewife and Winnie the Pooh.  I read all of Narnia, and The Last Unicorn, which is truly magical.

I’m still working on Maria Montessori’s pedagogy.

I have also been reading some demographic analysis stuff, apparently looking into the increase in college education among women and how it was changing their family having patterns was all the rage and then it suddenly wasn’t, around the time they became a majority of all births (the 80s).

And I haven’t done more than glance at it yet, but I have a very interesting book about sorcery, the occult and Christianity and how the neo-pagans of the late 19th century were not creating something new and weird, but echoing long standing occult practices that had been aggressively hidden by Victorians wishing to represent an unbroken line of faithful and untainted Christian practice.  It’s actually about how much of this was carried over the sea by those English and Germans who “founded the country”, but it gets into backstory about the occult in Western Europe up until the 19th century.

I thought I hadn’t been reading much this year, but I haven’t even covered a quarter of what I’ve gotten through and I started on a couple other books.  I guess the Dumas being soooooo long makes it seem like I’ve barely read more than two books in six months, but it’s nowhere near that bad.

Maria Montessori welded Rousseau, Nietzsche and the medieval Catholics.

I’ve been reading up on Montessori because personal reasons, and reading Maria Montessori’s own words on her methods has been truly a fascinating journey I’ve only just begun.

Her methods appear to work with very little boys who were the children of muggers and prostitutes, and they also have a robustness that worked when she was able to work with children from more ordinary backgrounds.

She took the naturalism of Rousseau and Nietzsche and interpreted them in a context of Christian liberty rather than pagan liberty. She admitted to rather desiring a world where nobody was a servant or had servants, she preferred an employee/employer model of two equals negotiating in good faith.

How all this relates to teaching 2-7yos (she had the occasional kid under 3, though she tried to work with 3-7) is that she wanted an open exploratory environment for the children so that they could learn self-mastery and to replicate correct behavior and discontinue incorrect behavior, in both the moral and physical senses. She also had a commune-style model, with the parents and the directress living in the same apartment building centered around the school, with live-in doctors as well. She talks in her pedagogy (method discussion) of essentially seeking a balance between the mother directing her own children at home and the directress reinforcing that in the Montessori school setting by consulting and talking with each mother weekly or so.

She wanted children to understand the proper form of things so that they would recognize them when they were older. She was very clear that her methods were not something that was the One True Way of Learning, but that she thought she’d gathered together the genius of men before her to find a path in which young children might be most optimally prepared for more formal education in the teen and adult years.

She felt that children discovering on their own would be better able to grasp introductory moral lessons in context. It’s a very radical and fascinating educational approach.

In America, it was literally dismissed by jealous nerdy men because it didn’t match up that well with their pen and paper test mania (although the children did get very good test performance, she wasn’t focused on maxing that particular stat). Interestingly Montessori’s methods and pedagogy were revived during the postwar era, particularly around the time the youngest Boomers were being born in the middle 1950s and early 1960s.

Angela Nagle vs. Thermidor, blind squirrel edition

T.W.O., who reads different parts of the reactionary right than I do, mentioned that the “neoreaction” “magazine” “Thermidor” decided to review some very silly book by a left-wing woman about the alt-right. The review is overlong and fretful, but this part was about the only interesting detail:

“In the opening of Rousseau’s pedagogical handbook, Emile, for example, Rousseau takes contemporary women to task for abandoning their motherly duties. He argues that the weakness and fragility of modern man is likely a result of mothers abrogating their duties to their children. He rails against the use of nurse maids and severely reprimands mothers for poisoning their new born children with the sickly air of the metropolis rather than face the horrors of confinement in the boring and uncomfortable countryside. This all sounds like it could easily have been lifted from some Red Pill forum post, but this in Nagle’s interpretation is one of the founders of the Equalitarian Feminist movement.”

Nagle was right, though, unfortunately for the reviewer. The Rousseau model, where the entire burden of motherhood is on individual mothers without the assistance of other women is explicitly one of the germs of expansion of economic and political power for women, particularly married women and married mothers. All those center-left free ranging mothers didn’t burst onto the scene in a vacuum.

Why I didn’t finish Somewhither by John C. Wright.

To be quite brief, I got to the Superwife section early in the book (less than 20% in) and I was done.  I couldn’t keep going much further.  The book is written in mostly teenage boy first person, which I had read from other non-spoiler reviews was a bit rough going in the early chapters, but that was not my real obstacle.  It was the teenage boy recalling his mother, who was Donna Reed (without the housekeepers of course) melded with mannish interests like woodcarving hot rods.  And also melded with the rude homeschool parent caricature growling at school officials coming over politely and reasonably.

It was too fantastical for me, and the book is a fantasy novel.

Urban dads in the 1950s did a surprising amount of childcare.

It looks as though the dad pitching in with the kids and housework is not quite as recent as people, particularly on the right, often claim.  While GI fathers show decent evidence of being hands-off, it appears things had changed for the fathers who came along a decade or so later.

During the 1950s and early 1960s, there were a lot of excited demographers studying the lower age of marriage and relatively higher fertility, and thrilled at the idea that a new pattern of family growth even in urban areas via natural increase might be the new normal.

One of those studies was done in two parts in 1957 and 1961 and it involved over 1100 white collar and blue collar couples in the eight largest major metropolitan areas at the time. It involved white couples who’d had their second child in 1956.  They further narrowed the group with technical requirements beyond the scope of this post, but the upshot was that they got some interesting data that Catholics, Jews and Protestants alike all wanted 2-4 children (90% across the board) and less than 10% wanted 5+.

Another interesting detail of this study is the post title.  Many of the mothers were still housewives, but fully 2/3 of them could count on their husbands to take care of the children as a norm.  Fully 1/3 of these urban women mostly living in apartments could also count on someone who wasn’t their husband (and by definition for the study not one of their own children) to help them around the house as a norm.

If one includes “sometimes”, 85% of the 1100+ wives could expect some recurring level of help with the kids from their husbands.  And including “sometimes”, it was 60% of those wives.  So by 1957, the husband was already viewed as a major source of help by urban wives.

They did a follow-up study covering whether a third (or) child had been born, and I haven’t gotten far into that one yet.  But I found the detail about help that the wife felt she could count on reliably very relevant to 60(!) years later.

Source: Family Growth in Metropolitan America, 1961, Princeton University Press.

Gene Stratton-Porter and me, At The Foot of the Rainbow

In the same year (1907), Gene Stratton-Porter published a romance, the one I’ll discuss in a bit, and the first of her “pure” nature books, What I Have Done With Birds.  This was the start of splitting out her nature writing from her romantic novels by publishing them in alternating years.  The fact that she talked publishers into doing this remains a topic of discussion in many biographical essays about her.

But right now, I’ll just save that for another day and get back to At The Foot of the Rainbow.  This is a slightly obscure early book of hers, before her more famous works which primarily featured heroines rather than heroes.

It’s about two lifelong friends and the woman between them, but it’s not quite the usual love triangle.  It is weirdly manospherian, with the husband of the wife being a chronic drunkard who loves to party and not work very hard supporting his wife (who nevertheless continues getting pregnant with his ultimately stillborn children through the years) and the husband’s childhood friend being an orbiter, always helping out and making sure the wife is taken care of.

The husband is straight up Bros before Brunhildes, with a couple major subplots demonstrating his concern about impressing random men rather than tending to his (at one point quite) sick wife.  It’s a short read, it ends mostly happily (childhood friend gets to marry the wife after all, while she’s still young enough to have some live babies with him–this is stated outright as pretty likely), but it was a little weird to run into some of those tropes in a book a hundred plus years old.  I guess more fodder for the ever more demonstrable claim that the manosphere offers nothing new regarding insights into human nature except a hilariously foreshortened jargon to describe old patterns.

But moving away from that aspect of things, the book is notable for some details Porter moved away from as her writing developed and matured.  She writes the two friends (Danny the orbiter and Jimmy the husband) and the wife (Mary) as speaking with very heavy Irish accents.  A good comparison is what Margaret Mitchell did with Prissy’s dialogue in particular in Gone With the Wind.  As ever with Porter, though, the goal was authenticity.  She wanted to represent the speech purely as she could.  She moved away from this in later novels, toning it down.  There was something of a craze for “authentic” regional work in heavy dialect until the 1910s or so.  I remember growing up with the impression that it was only black dialects that this authenticity craze covered, but that isn’t the case.

This short novel, more a novella, is also the only time Gene Stratton-Porter spent a lot of time on male friendship.  Subsequent novels don’t feature two adult men in friendship over the years the same way.  She does write some novels with heroes, but they never have close male friends ever again.

I should perhaps have done this from the beginning with discussing her work, but here is an excerpt of the nature writing in this little tale of male friendship.  It’s early on, when the two are hunting muskrats to skin and sell.

Dannie’s gaze followed Jimmy’s retreating figure until he climbed the bank, and was lost in the woods, and the light in his eyes was the light of love. He glanced at the sky, and hurried down the river. First across to Jimmy’s side to gather his rats and reset his traps, then to his own. But luck seemed to have turned, for all the rest of Dannie’s were full, and all of Jimmy’s were empty. But as he was gone, it was not necessary for Dannie to slip across and fill them, as was his custom when they worked together. He would divide the rats at skinning time, so that Jimmy would have just twice as many as he, because Jimmy had a wife to support. The last trap of the line lay a little below the curve of Horseshoe Bend, and there Dannie twisted the tops of the bags together, climbed the bank, and struck across Rainbow Bottom. He settled his load to his shoulders, and glanced ahead to choose the shortest route. He stopped suddenly with a quick intake of breath.

“God!” he cried reverently. “Hoo beautifu’ are Thy works.”

The ice-covered Wabash circled Rainbow Bottom like a broad white frame, and inside it was a perfect picture wrought in crystal white and snow shadows. The blanket on the earth lay smoothly in even places, rose with knolls, fell with valleys, curved over prostrate logs, heaped in mounds where bushes grew thickly, and piled high in drifts where the wind blew free. In the shelter of the bottom the wind had not stripped the trees of their loads as it had those along the river. The willows, maples, and soft woods bent almost to earth with their shining burden; but the stout, stiffly upstanding trees, the oaks, elms, and cottonwoods defied the elements to bow their proud heads. While the three mighty trunks of the great sycamore in the middle looked white as the snow, and dwarfed its companions as it never had in summer; its wide-spreading branches were sharply cut against the blue background, and they tossed their frosted balls in the face of Heaven. The giant of Rainbow Bottom might be broken, but it never would bend. Every clambering vine, every weed and dried leaf wore a coat of lace-webbed frostwork. The wind swept a mist of tiny crystals through the air, and from the shelter of the deep woods across the river a Cardinal whistled gayly.

 

Self-publishing SAHMs are pretty practical and sensible.

I have been stumbling across a lot of SAHMs who have seized upon self-publishing as a way to make money while having the flexibility to be at home with their children for homeschooling, special needs or infant/toddlerness.  One of the astonishing things about them is how they blow a lot of work-at-home mothers out of the water on the support network front.

Self-publishing SAHMs have childcare so they can write.  Either they pay for it, get a relative to watch the kids a few times a week or they talk to their husbands about taking the kids so they can write 2 or 3 hours a night.  This is a baffling thing full-time work-at-home people rarely do.  They seem to think if you’re at home working the kid(s) will just realize this and let you work, even if they’re infants or toddlers.

This means they reliably write 10-20 hours per week, a true part-time job that can be integrated into their general household management and not cause friction.  And they also pace themselves, they never plan more work than they can reasonably produce on a set, consistent, frequent schedule.  They just work to market whatever length of writing that schedule produces.  And it works.  Because this self-selecting, wonderfully sensible pool of women does not bite off more than they can chew, they sell thousands of copies a month of short stories, novellas and novels apiece and make anywhere from a couple thousand dollars a month for their time to ten thousand or more per month.

At first I thought it was just one or two women, but as I’ve looked at the people who admit to self-publishing and discuss their background, I’ve found it’s a common theme with the SAHMs who are making a go of it.

What a wonderful discovery.