Sunday, May 16, 2010

The Egg and I

was one of the books I bought at yesterday's Book Fair, an annual Rotary event, where 30000 books are on sale for mainly $1 or $2 each.
I suppose that many are books from estates: they have noticeably changed over the last few years. There are few now by Taylor Caldwell, Robert Penn Warren, Lloyd C. Douglas, Daphne du Maurier, Irwin Shaw and such. How grand their titles were: "Dear and Glorious Physician", "A Many Splendored Thing", "The Robe", "The Citadel".
I had read "The Egg and I" years ago, and thought it hilarious. Her neighbours, Ma and Pa Kettle, became characters of comedy in their own right.
Re-reading it, I see it as a funny, brave and bright spin over hardship and disappointment.

Rising at 4 a.m. each day was a necessity. Having to walk 4 miles to the neighbours to borrow matches or such, she blames on her own forgetfulness. But I resented very much, on her behalf, (tho' she did too) ,that she had to scrub her white pine floor every day, because of her husband's insistence that "it was a badge of fine housekeeping, a labour of love, and a woman's duty to her husband."
When she says elsewhere, that she will never again feel more ecstatic than on hearing the distant sound of her husband's truck returning from town, we see the clash of love and frustration that shattered the marriage.
There is far more description - of sunrises and mountains and panoramas - than would be allowed now. But few readers then, I suppose, would have had any knowledge of the Olympic Mountains or Washington State, so I speculate that it may have been of general interest.

She writes with an easy, warm and witty voice, and with deftness. Of the winter monotony, she says: "The days slipped down like junket, leaving no taste on the tongue."
I salute you, Betty MacDonald. I feel fortunate to have found you again at the Book Fair.


Relatively Retiring said...

I agree with your thoughts.
Have you managed to find 'The Plague and I'?

Elisabeth said...

What a brilliant sentence: "The days slipped down like junket, leaving no taste on the tongue."

It is evocative of a way of life I can hardly bear to contemplate. Thanks for this Frances.

Penny said...

A fortunate find indeed. I haven't read this, although it's been on the menu for a while. Now you've inspired me.

Charlie said...

Ah, Taylor Caldwell and Irving Shaw. I remember them well, and still have some in my library.

I never read The Egg and I but I did see the movie, and from your description they sound quite different. That's typical of most movie versions, of course, cutting the beautiful lines and POVs.

Frances said...

I once read the "Plague and I", Relatively Retiring....30 years ago? I need to find it again, because it must be in that book, not this, where she just packs up her babies and leaves. Or it may be in another one, where she writes about the difficulty of finding work during the depression years of the nineteen thirties.
The optimism, the puting a bright spin on things, the hard labour involved in making others peoples' lives easier, the joy in creating great meals for them; cosy, clean and aesthetic homes for them, seem to reflect her background, and the role of women at that time.
Perhaps unacknowledged and unspoken resentments at this, and at the subordinate role this quite superior woman lived, led to a conflict between mind and body, that resulted in her far too early death. Or, perhaps she was just "unlucky".

Frances said...

Elisabeth. How nice to see you here.
Yes, it's a good sentence, and reading Betty MacDonald is so enjoyable because these serendipitous bits slip in so easily into her easy, raconteurial style.
She lets us see, through these slivers, that the eden that her family and inlaws saw, was...worm ridden.

Frances said...

Penny: Good luck in finding it, because I'm sure that you would enjoy it.

Frances said...

Charlie: An Oz writer, Steele Rudd, wrote wry stories about the life of a "cocky", that is, a small scale but aspirational farmer in the early 20 C.
The same thing happened, as with "The Egg and I". The "funny bits" became the whole story, (Dad and Dave, in this case), reducing the whole panoply of their experience to farce.

Frances said...

Charlie: I hovered over "The Young Lions". But, I was carrying a heap already, so left it there.
A mistake?