Jane Brockett's The Gentle Art of Domesticity ($69.99, Hodder and Stoughton) is not for women who take pleasure in discussing the wonders of Shower Power ('Do such women exist?' you ask. Yes – guilty as charged) or adhere to Stepford Wife standards of household perfection.
In fact, Brocket's book may be an antidote for women suffering from the kind of perfectionism that pervades their plastic-covered home environments to the point of rendering them sterile and practically unlivable – certainly not places where one can kick of his or her heels and feel 'at home' (leave your shoes at the door, please).
Brocket's mantra for living embraces imperfection ("domestic comfort lies in the knowledge that things do not have to be perfect," she writes). Her book is a flaws-and-all paean to adorning your domestic life with things that bring you pleasure, through embracing 'the gentle arts of domesticity', rather than by adhering to the rigid rules of household maintenance practised by Martha Stewart and co. Brocket is about finding pleasure in the activities that feminism forgot.
"The gentle art of domesticity is the felicitous application of practical skills to the spaces in which we live," she writes. "It requires a desire to make instead of consume, a triumph of activity over passivity, and a return to using our hands and imaginations rather than a reliance on screens and technology. It's part of that wonderful, traditional, often undervalued skill of 'making our own entertainment' – something we are wont to consign erroneously to the dim and distant past of radio, board games, jigsaw puzzles and, dread word, hobbies."
Thanks to Brockett, her book, her blog (Yarnstorm, which attracts 50,000 hits a week) and fellow craft/domestic bloggers, the girls who liked home economics at school but were pushed to pursue science or legal studies instead can come out of the linen closet and embrace their knitting needles and spatulas with fervour.
Why should fashionistas and dress designers escape feminist retribution while craftsters are accused of being subservient to traditional patriarchal roles, anyway? In fact, now we're no longer beholden to defined gender roles, it's almost subversive and romantic (certainly 'retro cool') to reclaim the lost arts – even if it's too late now to seek out our grandmothers for advice... and we're still doing most of the housework.
Lest we take her for a flippant housewife with too much time on her hands, Brocket spends the introductory paragraphs assuring us that she's anything but. She did the university thing and the career thing, but then found her groove after giving birth and moving to Germany with her husband, Simon:
"Instead of fighting the glaringly anachronistic corporate-wife lifestyle, I realised I didn't have to kowtow to that particular set of expectations. Instead, I saw that enforced domesticity could be tremendously liberating and would allow me to do all the things I had loved for so long and yet had felt guilty about practising. Knitting, baking, buying flowers and bread, exploring a different domestic culture, reading Elizabeth Gaskell – all this suddenly became worthwhile, and a way of being me in the face of impending motherhood and, that dreadful tag, a 'trailing spouse'."
Brocket warmly invites us into her life, her home, her inspirations (art, classic books, pineapples!) and discusses the challenges of motherhood and running a household:
"Some days my creative output is zero; life is more a matter of holding everything together until relief arrives in the form of Simon/a glass of wine/a child taken out of the equation/bedtime...".
The book is infused with personal anedcotes, her musings on each of the gentle arts, playtime (how many of us act impulsively on our need for play... of a non-sexual, non-shopping variety?), films, colour, sweets, dark chocolate, texture, fabrics, poetry, style, book covers, buttons, flowers, travel and her 'seven comforts'. There are also recipes (chewy flapjacks, oaty vanilla biscuits, Queen of Hearts jam tarts – yum!), craft instructions, life lessons and gorgeous photographs to admire.
It's a rich and rewarding read – sort of like falling through the rabbit hole and into Brocket's version of Wonderland. Or a grown-ups version of Gisele Scanlon's The Goddess Experience ($39.99; Harper Collins). Leave a copy on your coffee table for guests to thumb through, dip into it at leisure over an afternoon tea of jam tarts or gift it to a woman you adore.
Buy it here or here!
Girl With a Satchel