In a lovely case of serendipity, I stumbled across Danielle Wood’s biography of Tasmanian Domestic Goddess Marjorie Bligh and found myself rather tickled by the coincidence of naming my darling posse of vintage housekeepers after a woman who surely set the standard for all of us!
If you aren’t familiar with Marjorie, she is a small town housewife who became a Tasmanian Superstar by being something of a creative powerhouse and excelling at all things domestic: a woman frequently rumored to have inspired Dame Edna Everage with her penchant for straight talking and extravagant taste in eye-wear…
Wood’s biography of Bligh presents her to us as something of a conundrum without I think ever really getting to the heart of the woman herself – perhaps because as Wood’s admits herself most of her story is cobbled together from Bligh’s extensive diaries and private journals are notoriously self-absorbed and do not always present us in the best light. The woman we get to some extent to know, is a cold fish: ambitious and fiercely passionate about her three marriages, while paying little heed to the children each of her relationships compromised. Her focus is always on the nurture of the marriage itself, and though her efforts are not rewarded in her first marriage which ends in spectacularly ugly, distressing fashion, thereafter Marjorie seeks out two kind men who both seem happy to exist in her shadow and allow her to forge a career built on dedication to house and home.
The book is a strange combination of biography, household hints, Marjorie’s rather cringe-worthy poetry, ( written I think in the innocence of another age) and at the end a peculiar chapter based on dispelling or rather seeking to prove that Marjorie was indeed the inspiration behind Barry Humphries, gladioli carrying, excitable nemesis, Dame Edna Everage. The problem with this is that Dame Edna Everage existed before Marjorie Bligh came to prominence in Tasmania and that Barrie Humphries himself, while admitting he adores Marjorie Bligh and recognizes her influence as housewife extraordinaire is rather cagey about to what degree she shaped his character and indeed during an awkward encounter between the book’s author and the man himself, seems almost resentful of, and bored by the very question: a fact made all the more odd when we learn that Dame Edna and Marjorie Bligh have never met. Furthermore, beyond Tasmania, Dame Edna Everage is little more than a much loved comic caricature, and to hinge the book on the premise that Marjorie inspired her, strikes me as mildly insulting and rather undermines her achievements if we are only to consider her within the framework of inspiration for the ridiculous…
All of this is something of a shame: though we learn that Marjorie wrote long-standing columns, various books and eventually created an in house museum of her own domestic achievement, we never learn quite what the process was that got her there, to what degree her obsession with all things domestic shaped the atmosphere of each of her homes, or how engaged she was in the process of writing about all those things she clearly taught herself to be capable of because the focus remains firmly on the ups and downs of her relationships.
This bothered me hugely throughout the book: I would hate to have my achievements regarded secondary to my frankly tumultuous relationships with men – though I understand that the bad times and the good times shaped the trajectory of Marjorie’s career, I think delving into most women’s relationship history throughout a ninety something year life would highlight moments when we are simply not our best selves but are instead women trying to stay strong and forge our own path un-compromised by neither the demands of marriage or the follies of men.
All in all, despite what may seem like rather extensive criticism I thoroughly enjoyed Housewife Superstar, simply because it is my kind of book: it is fascinating to read about a woman who followed a similar path to mine in a time and place where the competition was simply not as fierce and to spend a while in the company of a woman who puts marriage above all else in a time when as women we are taught not to define ourselves by the men we love. All that and household hints? Wonderful!
ABC of Happy Marriage by Marjorie Bligh…
Always. No refunds if not satisfied, so choose carefully.
Boredom. The arch enemy of marriage. Root it out at first signs of growth.
Children. Marriage was instituted for protection and procreation.
Domestic Duties. The most important work in the whole community.
Exercise. Physical—to keep you trim. Mental—to keep you interesting.
Food. Be imaginative, original and appreciative.
Gossip. Don’t gossip about your partner’s failings.
Honesty. Be honest with each other, but not brutal.
Intelligence. Allied with commonsense, it solves many problems.
Job. A helping hand or listening ear when necessary.
Kindness. Be kind to each other.
Love. To marry for less is to invite disaster.
Modesty. Something you can’t afford to lose.
Nagging. Never accomplishes anything. Try encouragement instead.
Others. To live in a cocoon of self-centredness is not wise.
Pride. Something you can’t afford to lose.
Quarrels. Always apologise first, even if you are right.
Religion. The tie that binds, the anchor that holds.
Sex. Sexual compatibility is essential to a happy union.
Trouble. Meet it together with courage and loyalty.
Understanding. When grounded in love it is never abused.
Vindictive. Check it by a check-up on your physical relationship.
Wedding Day. A beautiful memory, but only the beginning.
Xtravagance. Stimulating occasionally, but must not become a habit.
You. Retain your personality. Refuse to become just Mum or Dad.
Zzzzzzzz. Unfortunately, there’s no known cure for snoring.