Anyone who has an interest in feminist literature will be familiar with Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale and Virginia Wolf’s A Room of One’s Own – both novels offering a depressing, yet real life portrayl of the issues women face inside and outside of fiction.
But before all of them came The Home-Maker by Dorothy Canfield Fisher.
This fictional tale about gender role reversal was first published in 1924 and is definitely a hidden gem, with the book not even being deemed worthy enough of a Wikipedia page.
The story follows Eva, a proud housewife in early 1900s America. She spends her days cooking and cleaning up after the kids and is rightfully annoyed that this seems to be all that her life consists of.
However, this all changes when her husband Lester falls of the roof of their house and is bound to a wheelchair, meaning Eva has to become the family bread winner, taking on a job in a department store.
This gender role reversal turns out to be great for the family, with Lester able to spend time with the kids as a stay-at-home dad as well as finally finding the time to sit and read poetry.
Meanwhile Eva is no longer dying of boredom trapped in the house and manages to forge a successful career.
The change also benefits the kids, who are much happier as their parents are no longer resentful about their roles in life.
Although this book is nearly 100 years old, it fantastically deals with family issues that are still very much present when it comes to expected gender roles.
And the author behind the book, Dorothy Canfield Fisher (1879-1958), had a pretty interesting life herself.
Fisher had a PHD in literature from the University of Columbia and would go on to learn another seven honorary degrees from college institutions. She was also fluent in five languages.
During her lifetime, Fisher had notable accomplishments such as helping to implement the first adult education programme in the United States, and also helping finance the move of many Jewish intellectuals to the country before the rise of the Nazis.
She also moved to France in 1916, when her husband was called-up to fight in the First World War.
While her husband was fighting the Germans, Fisher set up an organisation to print books in Braille for blind veterans, as well as setting up a home for refugee children who had been displaced by the war.
The use of chemical weapons in the first world war meant that thousands of soldiers were blinded, meaning braille services like the one set up by Canfield Fisher were essential.
Today Fisher is mostly remembered as a social activist and a children’s author, but The Home-Maker is well worth checking out if you’re into feminist literature.
An audio version of the book is also able to be listened to on YouTube for free.
If you liked this post then read A new side to the story: Why feminist re-tellings are on the rise or Why crime fiction is fixated on women as victims of violent crime next.
Arthur is a journalism student at The University of Sheffield. As well as being a founding member of BLOT, he has also written for Forge Press, Sheff Central and One2Football. His hobbies include climbing, going to gigs and of course, reading.
Favourite genres: Magical Realism and Historical Fiction.