Best books on housework

Best books on housework: Author Patricia Nicol suggests novels focused on domestic chores

  • Patricia Nicol shared a selection of books with a theme of domestic work 
  • Ira Levin’s The Stepford Wives portrays women who reject social overtures
  • Kathryn Stockett’s The Help recounts the lives of black maids in the early 1960s

Does tidying spark joy? Does your heart skip to the beat of the washing-machine’s drum and the dishwasher’s thrum? Does the maxim ‘A place for everything and everything in its place’ flood you with contentment — or cold, clammy fear?

For me, it’s the latter. My nature abhors a vacuum cleaner.

Of course, I’d love my home to look like the celestial sanctum of a domestic goddess, where we could hug amid the hygge. But who has the time to achieve that?

Every hour of every day at home could become a Sisyphean roll call of tedious domestic chores. Last weekend, I hoped to do some paid work; instead, I spent what felt like 48 hours sorting out others’ socks. Did it spark joy? Frustration, fury, self-pity, the beginnings of a martyrdom complex, yes. But joy? Nah.

Literary expert Patricia Nicol shared a selection of books focused on housework including Ira Levin’s The Stepford Wives (pictured left) and Kathryn Stockett’s The Help (pictured right)

What would Ira Levin, who, in 1972, imagined a male anti-feminist backlash with the satirical Stepford Wives, think of our early 21st-century cult of domesticity?

In it, Joanna Eberhart is surprised by the docility of the women she meets when her family move to the New York suburbs. Her neighbour Carol rejects social overtures ‘to wax the family-room floor . . . there’s always something or other that has to be done’.

It turns out Carol is a robot. All the Stepford Wives are, otherwise they’d be wiping the floor with their sexist husbands.

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Behind every great man or woman there’s usually someone doing the drudge work. Jo Baker’s fresh Longbourn dusts off the plot of Jane Austen’s Pride And Prejudice, reimagining it entirely from the downstairs perspective of the Bennet’s put-upon staff. It begins at dawn on laundry day, with housemaid Sarah, her hands already chapped, musing on how, ‘At Longbourn House they washed their own dirty linen’.

There is plenty of dirt, too, much of which sticks, in Kathryn Stockett’s bracing The Help, putting the lives of black maids in early 1960s Mississippi under the spotlight.

If someone else’s domestic bliss is being achieved through your drudgery, then put your feet up — preferably on them.

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