Tuesday 24 August 2010

Domestic Goddesses?

The holidays are over, and I am conscious that there’s a lot happening this autumn. So I have been trying to get more organised regarding general housekeeping before the start of the new school year.

To quote the blog of my friend Frances “Start the new year off with a clean slate and a clean toilet, I always say.” This seems a noble aim, and I want to add “and clean sheets on all beds and an empty ironing basket”

We had a charity carrier bag pushed through the letter box on Monday morning, so I resolved to fill it before Wednesday’s collection. I tidied a bookshelf and found a number of books to donate, and some other books I had mislaid, and I rearranged things a bit and dislodged a lot of dust. Then I discovered a clipframe [with an art postcard in it] was wedged between copies of “Eats,Shoots, and Leaves” and “Elegance”

This picture…

isabella & basil

It is Holman Hunt’s “Isabella and the Pot Of Basil” based on the poem by Keats [taken from Bocaccio’s Decameron] It is an utterly gruesome tale. Why did I buy this card – was it a mad Pre-Raphaelite moment ? I cannot for the life of me remember.

I do like the P-R’s - we have a print of ‘Mariana’, by Millais at Cornerstones [‘backache woman’ as we’ve nicknamed her]

mariana millais

Two other paintings I like are these -

Dante Gabriel Rosetti’s  Proserpine


And John William Waterhouse [associated with, but not strictly a member of, the PR ‘Brotherhood’] did The Lady Of Shallot

lady of shallot

But whilst I love their attention to detail and rich colours and textures, why did they often choose such miserable subjects? All these women seem to have been badly treated by men, thwarted in love, and given to moping about.

And all those lacy frocks and drooping shawls must have got really muddy and damp – not to mention the wildly flowing locks getting out of control [no Pantene or Frizz-Ease back then!]

See also Ophelia! [another one by Millais]


Are there any Pre Raphaelite pictures out there of a beautiful, happily married woman, smiling with joy because she knows that upstairs is a freshly made bed and a beautifully cleaned toilet?

vermeer jug


Perhaps that’s why I am also fond of the Flemish artists, with those graceful women working diligently in their kitchens

You just know this woman’s bedroom is tidy and her bathroom is spotless!


It must be possible to combine these two roles successfully – the romantic, beautiful woman  [floating about in pretty frocks, tending her garden and sewing her tapestries] with the domestic practical woman [efficient housekeeper, cordon bleu cook, capable mother] Isn’t that what that wife in Proverbs 31 achieved?

…and this is where everything falls down – I start off with noble intentions [tidy the bookshelf, fill the charity bag, then prepare a meal] and I get waylaid into dreaming about Great Art…and then that sends me down a side-track where I find the germ of an idea about a sermon I want to preach…and my beloved gets beans on toast again - when I probably ought to have been inspired instead to produce something exciting with fresh basil or shallots!

Oh dear – I am already beginning to despair about my housewifely failures, and we haven’t even started the new term yet!


  1. All true, and a lot of fun on the way to domestic harmony! We're in much the same state at the moment, with me trying to get camping and DIY stuff out of the way before I can really tidy and clean, and all with the boys still on holiday! It's not going to happen, perfectly, but I'm still going to give it a good go...

    I like the PRs in theory, but in practice there's always something in the painting that gets on my nerves, just as you're saying. So I'm more an Arts and Crafts woman, myself.

  2. Oh Ang, you do make me laugh! Just stay as you are, never mind Ophelia or any of the other vapourish women!

  3. When you dished up the beans on toast did you say "Sorry but's that's shallot (Your lot) for today?" !!
    Sorry couldn't resist - bet your a fab housewife.

  4. Always check that the "charity bag" is from the charity named, and that they collect it... there are some right scams going on...... if you have the time it's much better to take it straight down the charity shop. For more info see this article in the Guardian

  5. Thanks for this reminder Sezy - my bag is from Age Concern, and they are a reliable and reputable outfit - but I DO agree, some of the ones we get are very 'iffy'

  6. I always used to start the(new) year off with no laundry in the laundry basket and no ironing in the ironing basket.....however rushing like an idiot to get this done, along with all the Christmas and New Year cooking I ended up frazzled and began the new year worn out and fed up with all the chores. I decided that I wouldn't fret over laundry and ironing waiting to be done any more.As for floating around in a fancy frock...before I had a house and animals to care for I used to. I remember vacuuming in a frock and furry mule slippers with heels! Now the outfit of choice is excercise pants (trousers for non N. Americans)and any top that is comfortable and clean....being ironed is no longer top of the list!

  7. Were the PRs not too busy being unhappily married to Ruskin and wishing they were in Scotland cavorting instead? I wanted to state that summer is not over- as suns not back to school until next Tuesday. But then I had a Baker day today and it is FREEZING here and PC is talking baout the discouragement of getting up and switching on orange light, and I fear I must give in! And look to my sheets and bathroom...

  8. So glad to be quoted, but sad to say my downstairs toilet still isn't clean! All those sad women--a bit of domestic toil would have cheered them right up. Give me Vermeer any day, I say, and pass the scrub brush.



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