Every summer I complain about the housework.
I mean, why do it?
Deep cleaning? That’s what my mother used to do. She hired an Amish woman to help.
I prefer to ignore housecleaning.
But the dirt was out of hand. I mean completely. So I vacuumed a dusty lampshade today. It was a first. I had bought a replacement at Target: it didn’t fit. And since I didn’t feel like making trips back and forth on the bus to try more lampshades, I took all the attachments off the vacuum cleaner and held up the hose to the lampshade…
It looks almost new. Damn, I wonder why my mother didn’t teach me that.
I’ve also been inspired to do a little decorating by Margaret Drabble’s 1964 theater novel, The Garrick Year, which is surprisingly domestic, though not about housework per se. Although there are numerous details about the work of theater from the vantage point of an outsider looking in, there are also comical accounts of quarreling over chops, shopping, and interior decoration.
In this charming novel, the beautiful, snarky heroine, Emma Evans, a former model, must cope at home with two children under three while her actor husband David works at a prestigious provincial theater. She is furious about the move to Hereford because she had lined up a job as a TV news reader in London, and now, awash in breast milk and diapers in an ugly furnished house, doubts that she will ever recover her self-esteem or pre-motherhood identity.
She complains about how familiarity and domesticity weigh on her spirits. She broods on the domestic mess of marriage.
The details of our life together repelled me: I hated the way David would throw his clothes all over my neatly folded garments when he undressed for bed. I loathed the way that the bed itself would be strewn all over the room in the morning. When I sleep alone, I hardly disturb the sheets.”
No, they’re not having sex at all, if you wondered.
Emma’s indifference to the society of actors, whom she certainly doesn’t envy and doesn’t like very much, is very, very funny. They call each other “Darling,” as they do in every novel about the theater, and Emma hears the same conversations over and over about whether actors should concentrate only on other actors during a performance or on the audience reactions.
David, pugnacious and incredibly handsome, argues with everyone. There are big, sloppy Michael, a middle-aged gay man who jeers at David’s insistence that acting is art and not entertainment, Sophy, a gorgeous young woman who cannot act and takes to hanging around Emma, and Julian, a kind sensitive man who isn’t quite sure if he’s gay or straight.
Since the actors are constantly pairing off, we’re not surprised that Emma has an almost-affair with the director, Wyndham Farrar. It’s not the glamour but the exhilaration of unfamiliarity that draws her. There’s also nothing else to do in the provinces.
I wonder if Drabble was thinking of Austen’s Emma. Austen’s Emma is beautiful but not particularly likable or sexy, as is Drabble’s Emma. Sophy might be Harriet. And David…Frank Churchill? Wyndham…Knightley?
Drabble knows about theater: she joined the Royal Shakespeare Company after Cambridge, and was married to the actor Clive Swift in the ’60s.
It’s a very enjoyable novel, her second.