Monday, May 21, 2007

Can Any Mother Help Me?

This marvellous book, edited by Jenna Bailey, is a collection of extracts from the magazines of the Cooperative Correspondence Club. This was simply a group of women, with a somewhat shifting membership, who between the 1935 to 1990 contributed letters and articles to a magazine edited by one of their number and circulated privately amongst them. This privacy and the use of noms de plume allowed them to write with sometimes startling frankness about sex, marriage and motherhood and poignantly, as the years progress, of ill health and widowhood. All of them were intelligent women - most university-educated - all of them were mothers and most were confined to the home. Families tended to be large and labour-saving devices few, at least in the earlier days. Accidia's account of her life in the 50s with five children, no washing machine, no vaccuum cleaner and a kettle that runs on batteries - well, words fail me. The CCC was a lifeline for women like this and created a precious sense of community for them. The isolation of some of these women - and the selfishness, regrettably, of some of their husbands - made my heart go out to them. It's hard to pick out particular passages from these fascinating chronicles of everyday life. I was particularly gripped by Isis's account of her almost-consummated love for her GP and her conversion to Catholicism, but the whole book was endlessly fascinating. There's so little whining, and so much courage and good humour. In the end I can't do better than to repeat the words of the reviewer in the TLS: 'ordinary goddesses, grand girls, every one.' Yes, indeed.

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