The 1930s seemed to be quite a fertile period for short story writing. That particular decade, at least, seems quite well represented in the Persephone Book of Short Stories. And now I've finally gotten a taste of Dorothy Canfield Fisher's writing. I thought she had a stronger tie with Nebraska, but it appears she only received an honorary degree from the University of Nebraska at some point in her career.
It was a busy and illustrious career by the way. I wonder what she is better known for (or was better known for)--her writing or her work in the area of educational reform. She wrote twenty-two novels and eighteen works of nonfiction. She is also credited with bringing the Montessori Method of learning to the US. She served on the selection committee for the Book of the Month Club (when it actually counted for something in terms of literary fiction), and Eleanor Roosevelt called her one of the ten most influential women in the US. Quite impressive. I've been aware of her for a while now, so it seems a pity I've not yet picked up any of her books. (I hope to rectify that situation sometime this year, and even have a recently acquired novel to help me out).
Knowing this little bit about Dorothy Canfield Fisher, I'm not at all surprised at the story included in the collection, "The Rainy Day, the Good Mother and the Brown Suit". It has a didactic quality to it, though there is no heavy handed moralizing to the story. It's more of an epiphany the character has, a realization of what she's saying to her children but not listening to very well in return to their responses.
"And yet she had done exactly what the books on child training assured mothers would ward off trouble on a stormy day."
Papers, scissors, paste and all the other accoutrements that surely any child would be happy with and would cheerfully pass hours of contented play are given to Freddy, Priscilla and Caroline, but they're instead caught up in the drama of Freddy's brown suit. Poor Freddy begs his mother for his favorite brown play suit to wear, but his mother won't allow him to have it. Following the training guides she explains the suit is wet and is hanging out to dry, but it does little to placate the boy. Rather both girls just add their voices to his lament.
"Going back to the pantry, she recalled with resentment that the psychologists of family life say the moods of children are but the reflections of moods of the mother. She did not believe a word of it. 'Did I start this?' she asked herself unanswerably, and 'How can anybody help being irritated when they're so perfectly unreasonable'."
Unfortunately the training guides are a little on the thin side--giving only the most obvious suggestions, practical though they may be, they remain ignored by the children. (And isn't that always the case). Instead it takes an elder cousin dropping to wait for his bus, killing time with the children and totally oblivious to any tensions between mother and children to see clearly what's causing such strife and unhappiness.
And the mother who overhears their conversation, thinks to herself that this young man, only a student and untutored could not possibly get to the bottom of matters so effortlessly. But he does, without even trying. I guess to put it into modern terms--the mother has an epiphany that can be likened to 'thinking outside the box'.
A very domestic and very Persephone sort of story. Must read more of Dorothy Canfield Fisher.
Next week: a story by Norah Hoult.