Original date of publication: 1924
My copy: 2008 (Persephone)
Why I decided to read:
How I acquired my copy: Persephone subscription, November 2011
Set in small-town America around the time it was written, this novel explores gender roles and how they affect families, and one family in particular. Lester Knapp is an accountant for a department store; his wife, Evangeline, is a housewife raising their three children. They both perform the roles expected of them by society, yet neither is suited to their role and neither is particularly happy. When Lester is injured in an accident that leaves him home-bound, his wife goes to work—to the benefit of everyone in the family.
Dorothy Canfield Fisher gets her reader deep into the heads of her characters, so we can understand exactly what they’re like and so that we get a three-dimensional view of the situation. Even the children’s point of view is well represented—especially Stephen, aged 5, who fears having his Teddy taken away to be washed. Therefore, we get the truth of a situation without the biases of your traditional narrator and so that the reader can see exactly what’s going on under the surface. While all the characters in the novel are lovable, my favorite is Lester—a dreamy poetry lover who turns out to excel as a homemaker and discovers a new-found appreciation for his children and their talents.
Fisher believed strongly in the strength of one’s internal personal life over external considerations. And the strength of this novel is what it says about American culture in general. Small town life is famous for being busybody-like; everyone knew your business and involved themselves in it, and if you strayed away from that, you’d be ostracized. So this novel serves as a sort of criticism of that way of life and what it represents. None of the Knapp family really has the freedom to do what suits them personally; they’re all at the mercy of what society dictates. In all, an incredible novel, with the wheelchair representing how social expectations can bind us all.