What Diantha Did by Charlotte Perkins Gilman
This very interesting novel begins with a description of the mother of Diantha’s fiancée…a description that immediately had me in stitches.
The stately mansion was covered with heavy flowering vines, also with heavy mortgages. Mrs. Roscoe Warden and her four daughters reposed peacefully under the vines, while Roscoe Warden, Jr.,(Diantha’s finacee) struggled desperately under the mortgages. A slender, languid lady was Mrs. Warden…It was her delight to purchase skein on skein of soft, bright-hued wool, cut all up into short lengths, tie them together again in contrasting colors, and then crochet this hashed rainbow into afghans of startling aspect.
Change afghans to quilts and start laughing!
Diantha decides that she must help her fiancée and his heavy burden . She will get a job. She has been living at home and teaching but that doesn’t earn her enough and besides, she really doesn’t like teaching very much. Does Roscoe want her help? Not at all! He’s sure that he will be able to get out from under and they’ll be able to marry in oh, about five or maybe six years.
When her parents hear of her plans, they too are not well pleased-her mother because she’ll miss her and her father because well, …”How about what you owe to me--for all the care and pains and cost it's been to bring you up. A child's a rather expensive investment these days."
Diantha answers him by totting up all accounts-on both sides of the ledger-what he spent and what she has contributed to the household. Oh, this was a hoot! Here’s my favorite part-Diantha is explaining what it cost her parents to clothe her:
The clothing total was so large that it made him whistle--he knew he had
never spent $1,130.00 on one girl's clothes. But the items explained
Materials, three years at an average of $10 a year . . . $30.00
Five years averaging $20 each year . . . $100.00
Five years averaging $30 each year . . . $50.00
Five years averaging $50 each year . . . $250.00
The rest was "Mother's labor, averaging twenty full days a year at $2 a
day, $40 a year. For fifteen years, $600.00.
“Mother’s labor,..For fifteen years. The father was completely shocked-to give a monetary value to what he saw as just a Mother’s duty. Oh, I could have cheered for Diantha.
Diantha does go off to work-and attempts to change people’s attitude towards domestic work…woman’s work. A lot of this book from 1910 deals with Diantha’s ideas for a better way to employ domestic servants-ok, not a real issue for most of us today but this book and the ideas in it are still far reaching and relevant today.
Long before Betty Friedan thought to write the “Feminine Mystique”, Charlotte Perkins Gilman was thinking and writing about woman’s work and the economic value of it –a value that was totally ignored and is still undervalued today. No salary received-no value acknowledged.
Charlotte Perkins Gilman was a prolific writer-a novelist and poet and a sociologist and lecturer for social reform-especially woman’s rights. She is well known for her “Women and Economics” and “The Yellow Wallpaper”. You can read more on-line works by Charlotte Perkins Gilman here.