Superwife, the Catholic version.

http://stlouisreview.com/article/2017-08-18/faith-home-sacred-act

We have a woman here whose life is so easy and uncomplicated, but yet whose faith is so brittle that *loading a dishwasher* is untenable without a saint’s image to pray to.  O-kay!

The evil here is that a woman in the life religious is not the same as a mother of young, closely spaced children.  Such a mother ostentatiously and vaingloriously holding herself out as equivalent to a cloistered nun (who, incidentally had a pretty interesting and short life, but one that didn’t feature much in the way of dishwashing or linen folding) is morally and spiritually dangerous.  In the life religious, the twenty or thirty tasks that make up a baseline of homemaking are split among many women rather than just one.  And this is partly so that the beauty of the small things in domestic upkeep for a group can be understood and comprehended more completely.

Birthing human small things with souls and hearts and chasing them around and then feeling aggrieved about loading a dishwasher is not a sign of spiritual discontent.  It’s simple and normal and human.  But as usual, the bar is set at “housewives, if you’re not performing at the level of VIRGIN SAINTS YOU NEED TO STEP IT UP LIKE MEEEEEEEEE”.

This is far more of a problem than the Lori Alexanders of the world.

 

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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.

A scale is not a switch

In the wake of this epic 1996-level wild thread/discussion about marriage difficulty for young Christian men and women these days, the male blogger Deep Strength posted a long rambling thing about “feminine beauty” that made me realize a key part of where some men are talking past some women in these matters.

A scale is not a switch.  When some men use the classic 10 point scale for looks/beauty/attractiveness, they aren’t using it as a scale, but as a switch.  On/off.  Yes/No (to the question of whether they might, in the abstract, desire to know a woman in the Biblical sense).  That is why Deep Strength thinks the young woman in his post went from a “3” to an “8” when she didn’t budge much in the scale sense.  She wasn’t a 3 or an 8 to start with.  She was an average girl who now looks above average because she puts more effort into her dress and carriage and lost weight via exercise and diet.  On a ten point scale she went from 5 to 6.

But this blogger converted “went from girl I would never think of desiring to girl I might have desirous thoughts of right now” into ten point scale language. “From a 3 to an 8!”

This is, needless to say, confusing.  He could have simply used a switch and reduced confusion dramatically.

This explains the obsession with “becoming an 8”, or “so and so is an 8 for sure!” by some men discussing love, sex and marriage.   8 is the switch.

He may be too young to remember Hot or Not.  That is all he needs, and all anyone needs who insists on limiting female beauty to a switch.

Related to this, Deep Strength’s post concludes that young Christian women should wear the clothing the young woman (pictured in his example towards the end of his very long post) wears at 124 pounds to show that they’d like to be considered marriage-worthy by men around them.

Yes/No?  No.

ETA 4/12/17: Deep Strength responds here with “Girls are dumb and don’t know things, amirite?” but about 500x longer.

 

Gene Stratton-Porter and Me, Freckles

Freckles (1904) is the prequel to the much better known A Girl of the Limberlost. When it was first published, it was confused for one of her “pure” nature picture books.  I greatly hope to score one of those editions someday.

Stratton-Porter’s nature-worship permeates both books, as does what amounts to her HBD style racial views.  People are quality because they come from literal “good blood”.  There’s also a lot of modern touches, like limiting how many children you have to go all-in on one prized child, along with the obsession with diet and physical exercise as moral worth measures.

Stratton-Porter is a good writer, great when talking about nature and also adept at not letting her stranger themes overwhelm the core romantic nature of her books.  But it was a bit surreal to see many of the things I lament in modern American culture were present a century earlier and are American traditions, as it happens.  I’m still navigating this fact, that American traditions are so anti-social and self-focused, but there you are.  Another interesting aspect of this book is how the innocence of the pure young woman who is Freckles’ love interest is not gullible or naive, but cautious.

The girls in Stratton-Porter books are not steeped in the grosser ways of the world, but they aren’t deluded that some men are not honorable and that even men who look honorable might turn out otherwise if given license.  I think it’s interesting that early 20th century teenage girls were getting this kind of literature written for them, that encouraged them to be intelligent or at least self-directed in learning, well-kept in dress and manner, and to desire marriage, but to build interests before marriage that could be maintained in content singlehood if marriage never came around.

That theme is more developed in the sequel, but it’s still present in Freckles, where the Swamp Angel (Freckle’s love interest) is a soda artisan at the local soda fountain.  Her drinks are the very best and she makes them for new people in town.  She’s also the daughter of the richest man in town and exceptionally beautiful and in Austenian terms “condescending to all”.  She is especially kind to Freckles, who is missing a hand due to a brutal childhood accident that has major plot significance in the last quarter or so of the book.

Freckles is himself an orphan who ends up working for a tough, smart, meritocratic Scotchman guarding lumber and being quasi-adopted by the foreman’s wife.  The various digressions on the high-end lumber market are fascinating, as they show that even a century plus ago the “cheap luxury” of veneers and patinas was well established and a path to great profits for the ones who owned the thousands or hundreds of acres with the right kinds of trees on them.

Freckles does great at guarding lumber and winning the heart of Swamp Angel.  He does anger a lumber thief and there’s some confrontations and dramatic action sequences, including Swamp Angel having to stand down the lumber thief’s gang with just the power of her beauty and well-bredness.  And also a gun.

There’s also an author insert called the Bird Woman, who provides Swamp Angel with said gun and provides some support to Freckles in his quest to learn his parentage.  Everyone says he is just too excellent mannered and upstanding to be an orphan from some trash background with cruel ill-bred parents.  And, well, the reader eventually learns that indeed he is something else entirely and that the accident that cost him his hand had nothing to do with his parents.  Since I am going to discuss all Stratton-Porter’s books, I will spoiler the surprise.  Freckles is of noble birth and secretly very wealthy, and thus totally worthy to marry the daughter of the richest man in town.

I could easily spend a week’s worth of posts on each of her books.  But this is just a very little introduction as I go through them all in publishing order.

The Little House on the Prairie and its autonomous mamas.

This is kind of an overview of the Little House On the Prairie books, hereafter LHOTP, as is common when discussing them online.  I recently read the original eight book series and it was truly astonishing how much autonomy and independence Laura’s mother and Almanzo’s mother had.

There is a fascinating phenomenon in which this cultural bedrock of Americana is being transmitted solely through (mostly Frontier-American) women and Frontier-American men are basically ignorant of a major piece of where their women’s beliefs about home and family are coming from.

So Ma and Mother are these women who have a huge span of responsibility and authority, along with far above average native talent and skills in the homemaking arts of their eras, but this has not become codified as any sort of serious norm for housewives/SAHMs.  Caroline Ingalls was a truly astonishing cook, with a high level of natural understanding of chemistry and plants to be able to cook on an unreliable stove with inconsistent heat and a nearly random selection of ingredients sprung on her at any point in time.  She was also a truly above average hand sewer.  Mrs. Wilder was a weaver and a food processor extraordinaire, whose skill with cloth and butter making accounted for much of that family’s cash income and nearly all their clothing and linens.

And Mrs. Wilder’s workspace is arranged and designed to suit her, so she can be the most highly productive she can be for her family.  Almanzo’s child’s eyes view of her weaving room is very insightful, you see a little boy who expects a grown woman to have her own separate space that Father doesn’t have any input into, beyond making it to her specifications.  You see a little of this in how Almanzo sets up the house for Laura when they marry.  He assumes it’s important for her to have things set up so she can be as effective/efficient as possible.

This was actually an interesting subtheme in a lot of early 20th century writing, because men were still building a lot of the houses directly and the whole notion that you needed to make the wife-offices, so to speak, tailored to your own wife’s skills was one that crops up in a lot of the women’s writing of those early decades.  Like, you were supposed to get a spec list out of her and then make it happen.

It’s interesting that the Frontier-American subcultures who are most into LHOTP as a world and worldview tend to not allow the wives and daughters and sisters the sort of free hand that was clearly not at all outside the norms of the era (late 19th century).  There are a number of reasons for this, not least of which is the desire to believe there is no skill in domestic arts precisely because of the increasing arrival of mechanization and automation.

A lot of other things about LHOTP struck me as I was reading, but this one, that the two main mamas were badasterisk but also very lightly headed by (some) modern standards despite not at all being psychically of one accord with their husband’s desires and wishes was one of the bigger ones.

 

A brief overview of mass pornography exposure from World War II until the 21st Century, part 1

 

Early Superwife fantasy.

 

Something that goes very unremarked is how many generations we’ve had of pornography exposure being a significant male rite of passage in America.  And how government funding injected enough cash into the industry to industrialize its production.  You can start a timeline with World War II, in which pornography was distributed as an alternative to camp followers and the “gifts” they brought (mostly venereal disease, but also babies).  There were millions of young men exposed to pornography in a mostly or all-male environment.  Then, after seeing hundreds and thousands of pictures of women dressed even less discreetly than the picture opening this post and doing way more than what that lady is, they went home to wives and future wives.

That was the Greatest Generation.

Their sons got exposed a little earlier, magazines under the bed, late teens high school bonding.  But it was already normalized as something a young man might want to do.  It was acceptable fringe.  Not to mention their sons were coming of age in the middle of “free love”.  There was now some idea that it might be ok to try a few of those things in the magazines out before marriage, just not with the girl you planned to marry.

Well, we all have a pretty good idea how the Boomers and Silents handled the influences of mass pornography getting even more normalized and mainstream in their young adulthood.

They were the swingers and nudists and the earliest waves of  what is now called “polyamory” on the secular fringe.  On the Christian-inflected fringe side, they were Flirty Fishers and sisterwivers in the 1970s and 1980s.  There was also the acceptable fringe of taking your date to a pornographic theater, although now that is moving more into Generation X.

It’s hard to accept, but these were the parents of the Millennials and Generation X.  And this is just part one.  Part two is going to note what the consequences were to those Millennials and Gen X’ers.

Might also want to notice that this is an early example of managerialism and modern efficiency thinking, too.

Gene Stratton-Porter and me, Introduction and the Song of the Cardinal

I have been working on several approaches to talking about the writing of Gene Stratton-Porter, one of the most fascinating and idiosyncratic American writers of the early 20th century.  I clearly can’t write reviews, so I’ll just talk about her fictional oeuvre.

She loved nature and was purely self-taught, not even finishing high school.  She wrote romantic fiction novels often called “sentimental” these days so that her publishers would let her put out the nature books.  Her fiction is mostly available in ebook form, so I’ve read nearly all of it that way, but I haven’t purchased the picture books or her later in life religious work and poetry.  She was very influential in the nature-worship sort of Christianity that one can see little strands of through the decades in America.  It is part of the frontier mythos.

She was one of the many intense, idiosyncratic women of the frontier generations who wielded a huge influence on American feminine culture that got memoryholed by both liberal and conservative sides of the aisle.  She is currently only known for being omgraciss in one of her later fictional books (which is super awesome and funny and has AMAZING recipes, and in which anti-Japanese sentiment is one minor subplot) and for being a nature-lover who saved vast tracts of her beloved Indiana swamps and forests.  She died unexpectedly in 1924 in her early 60s when her car was hit by a trolley.

But this post will be about her first official fiction book, which doesn’t even feature a human couple being romantic.  (She published something else anonymously, but I haven’t read it and I like to read things in publishing order, and it wasn’t published under her name until after her death).

  • The Song of the Cardinal (1903).  It’s a short little novella length story of a young cardinal looking for love.  It’s also about the animals and plants she adored in her native Indiana, and about people having love for the wild things and protective feelings towards them as they try to farm the land but also keep safe spaces for the wild things.  It is very charming and is a word picture of what later became her preferred work, elaborate nature books with excellent photos and illustrations.  It’s interesting that she started out this way, with the love story being between two young cardinals.  It allows her to get highly descriptive about their lifecycle (and accurate too), and she begins to introduce the humans as people bonded to nature, almost like nature spirits.  She straddles that line between pagan sentiment and Christian faith and this is a major ongoing detail of her work.  In this early work, she doesn’t tip over too much, possibly because she’s talking about animals as the main protagonists, with the people as observers.