Reviews of Homeward Bound

“3.5 out of 4 stars” - People Magazine                                                               “The brilliance of Emily Matchar’s new book is that it exhaustively describes what disillusioned workers are opting into: a slower, more sustainable, and more self-sufficient lifestyle that’s focused on the home. Matchar synthesizes dozens of trend stories … into a single, compelling narrative about the resurgence of domesticity….Refreshing.” -The New Republic                                                       "[P]rovocatively explores what the movement says about the role of women in society today.” – The New Yorker                                                                       "I unreservedly loved it…It’s empathetic and funny and thoughtful and smart, and I encourage all of you to read it."– The Hairpin                                                         “Cogently argues that choosing a more hands-on, DIY lifestyle – family farming, canning, crafting, can, without sacrificing feminism’s hard-won gains, improve on an earlier time when ‘people lived more lightly on the earth and relied less on corporations, and family and community came first.’” - ELLE                                                               “[I]ntelligent and insightful...essential reading.” - Christianity Today                                                       “A lively and perceptive reporter… a valuable and astute assessment.”—Publishers Weekly                                                         “A well-researched look at the resurgence of home life…. Offers intriguing insight into the renaissance of old-fashioned home traditions.”— Kirkus Reviews

What is New Domesticity?

This blog is a look at the social movement I call ‘New Domesticity’ – the fascination with reviving “lost” domestic arts like canning, bread-baking, knitting, chicken-raising, etc. Why are women of my generation, the daughters of post-Betty Friedan feminists, embracing the domestic tasks that our mothers and grandmothers so eagerly shrugged off? Why has the image of the blissfully domestic supermom overtaken the Sex & the City-style single urban careerist as the media’s feminine ideal? Where does this movement come from? What does it mean for women? For families? For society?                                                                                     My book, Homeward Bound: Why Women Are Embracing the New Domesticity, which explores New Domesticity in greater depth, will be published by Simon & Schuster in May 2013.

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Domestic bloggers and mid-century “housewife writers”


shirley jackson

Shirley Jackson - proto domestic blogger?

Because I am fascinated with The Pioneer Woman and the rest of the professional domestic bloggers who create public narratives out of their families’ real lives, I’ve been reading about their historical predecessors: the “housewife writers” of the 1950s and 1960s, specifically Jean Kerr and Shirley Jackson.

These were women who made a living by spinning charming, often self-deprecating stories out of their real day-to-day existences. They made the messy, noisy, often exhausting project of child-raising and housekeeping sound like a madcap adventure. Women related to them, and loved them. Sound familiar?

But of course, since they were real people and professional writers, their private lives and their written lives didn’t always match up.

So: Shirley Jackson. Remember her? Most of us probably only think of her as the author of that creepy The Lottery story we all had to read in the 8th grade (Whaaaat?!? The winner gets STONED TO DEATH!!!). But Jackson was actually well known in her day for her witty essays on housekeeping and motherhood. She was married to a Bennington College professor/writer, had four kids, and used to write cozy, dry-humored stories about baking brownies and doing endless loads of laundry and managing her hoard of unruly kids and her sweet, absent-minded husband.

In real life, Jackson’s husband was an oddball former child prodigy who liked to sleep with his students, and their marriage was fraught with all kinds of tension. Shirley was apparently an odd duck herself – a prickly, secretive chain-smoker who freaked people out with her uncomfortable bluntness and her Gothic habits – reading Tarot, naming all 11 of her cats after demons. She was so weird, Bennington students gossiped that she was a witch (damn, now I really wish I could have met her. I guess I’ll have to settle for her autobiography).

Now I’m helplessly imagining the Pioneer Woman as a secret chain-smoking Tarot reader…

Here are a couple really interesting (if slightly older) pieces on the mid-century housewife writers, and how effortlessly they seemed to transform their complex lives into witty tales: Sundae Horn’s The More Things Change… and Elizabeth Austin’s Giving Mirth.

1 comment to Domestic bloggers and mid-century “housewife writers”

  • An interesting difference between then and now is that with today’s professional domestic bloggers you don’t get the wry humor that you describe as being part of Jackson’s and Kerr’s work. (I think that kind of humor is found in abundance in mommy blogs, but not so much domestic blogs which are a somewhat different beast.) I’m thinking not just of Pioneer Woman but also for example Soulemama, who basically has a whole About page defending herself from people who complain that she portrays her life as too perfect.

    If domesticity is a “choice” these days, maybe there’s less room to express ambivalence about your choices–more pressure to affirm that you made the right choice, no opportunity to acknowledge that all choices are imperfect.