Monday, July 9, 2012

The Role of the Hausfrau

What a maligned role it has been--the hausfrau, the housewife, the keeper of the home always ready with a gentle hand, a warm bowl of something hearty, wisdom. She's quick with a broom and to stitch up a wound. She's most often a supporting character, by her very nature, because it's what she does--she supports. She succors. She cooks and cleans and wipes noses. She is the Eternal Mother, and everyone hates her.

No, I'm not a fan of Freud.

Hate is a strong word; let's call it dramatic emphasis. She's been picked apart so often for being what she is, called a trope and worse. I've read criticisms of David Edding's Polgara, for actually seeming to like her role as caretaker of everyone she comes across, because she, being one of the most powerful people in that particular world, should be more. And though I do understand that this became a trope because it was most often the only role given any woman in a fantasy novel, (and in life!) I can't help feeling she's being overlooked, or worse, looked down upon, as somehow not interesting enough, strong enough, valuable enough for our fiction abundant with warrior women.

This is one of those subjects I, as a woman, a mother, and yes, a housewife, have struggled with through my life. I wiped the noses and cooked the food and kept the house while my husband brought home the paycheck that supported the household. Because he is him, I get to be me, and vice versa. It's traditional, for want of a better word, but it has worked for twenty four years.The key here is that it was a choice, not a societal mandate; and therein lies the difference.

I have spent way too much time defending the role I chose. There's no money, no prestige, very little outside validation of any kind. I've always been offended by the term working mother. I hated being asked, once my kids were all in school full time, if I was going back to work. The implication is there, no matter how innocently said; and this, I think, is part of what led to the hausfrau being one of those characters we just don't write.

But she's making a comeback, in a positive way. Can you guess who I'm going to cite?

Molly Weasley (Harry Potter Series.) She is a magically powerful woman. She can conjure up dinner, but she cooks it herself, for her family, with love. Her house is often a bit cluttered, but it's always clean. She tends her children, her husband and her home with the same ferocity with which she ultimately battles Death Eaters. Molly Weasley is the embodiment of mother, hausfrau, tender of the hearth and home--and she rocks.

Hausfrau is never going to get a starring role. Her very nature makes her a supporting character, not a starring one; but she doesn't have to be a trope either. We need more of her. We need to love her again, because Wendy Darling isn't acquiescing to societies expectations unless we impose that on her; and neither is Molly Weasley. It's just who they are. Without them, Peter and the lost boys, Harry, Ron, Hermione and all the rest would not have lasted long enough to see the end of their stories.

Got a hausfrau for me? Let the list begin!


Anonymous said...

Tom Bombadil from LotR. Yes, he's a he, but I think he fits the requirements, except for the frau part.

Terri-Lynne said...

Oh, good call, Clint! He is sort of motherly, isn't he. :)

batgirl said...

Two of the characters in Katherine Blake's The Interior Life fit this. One is Susan, the suburban housewife who finds herself imagining (living?) an otherworldly story of a kingdom under siege, and the other is Marianella, maidservant to a Lady of that land and necessarily practical and domestic given that her Lady is a Seer and doesn't always notice things.

It's a terrific book, though sadly out of print. I've bought and given away several extra copies.

Terri-Lynne said...

Dang it, batgirl! Leave it to you to put more books on my TBR pile. Then again, I'd have to really go searching for it, huh?

batgirl said...

I think Morwen in Patricia Wrede's Talking to Dragons would qualify - she's a very domestic witch with cats and garden, and she feeds those who arrive at her cottage.
There's a similar character in The Seven Towers, but I can't find my copy to verify her name. Amberglass?

batgirl said...

Oh, Terri, I could send you one of my spare copies, mwa-haha!

Terri-Lynne said...

Barbara--you are a wicked, wicked thing, but I love you!

Hmmm...a domestic witch with cats, eh? Sounds eerily familiar. ;)

Karin Rita Gastreich said...

Not a fantasy title, but coincidentally, right now I am reading DARK IS THE SKY by Jessica Chambers. The protagonist is a Hausfrau and a novelist. I mean, really. Does it get any better than that? ;)

Terri-Lynne said...

Eeep! She's ME! Hahahaaa!

Anonymous said...

This speaks to me on many levels because when I review the list of my favorite authors this trope seems to appear all the time. McKillip works with it repeatedly. I saw it a little in Eld, more in the RiddleMaster set and again in her works since. I also see it on CJ Cherryh's Tree of Swords and Jewels. The Steading as a whole has that same kind of "order, food, clean" vibe. I think its an important place in CJ's celtic fantasy. The Gruagach is an amazing character.

And I think in the end the quest for order fuels the use of such characters and places. Barliman Butterbur remains one of my favorite figures in LOTR, as does Bombadil. The trope encapsulates all the vital things that speak to us of home: security, light, laughter, order, smells, cleanliness, etc. It is the counterpoint to the chaos we thrust our characters into. I think Myazaki plays with it beautifully in Howl's Moving Castle.

Gotta love your hausfrau.

Terri-Lynne said...

McKillip's "Solstice Wood" gives us a hausfrau in all the ladies of the Fiber Guild.

When you mentioned Barliman, Sam automatically came to mind.

We've now got almost as many men on that hausfrau list as women!

batgirl said...

Another! Milly in Diana Wynne Jones's Chrestomanci series. In the first (written, but not first chronologically) Charmed Life, she appears to be a plump, ordinary mother and wife, who keeps the household running smoothly. And she is. She's also an immensely powerful wizard who used to be a goddess incarnate.

batgirl said...

And though I shouldn't count my own unpublished work, there's a reason this appeals to me.
In the co-written novel that will probably never see the light of day, the character Mary is housekeeper for her brother and the house she keeps is an ancient semi-sentient reservoir of magic so she is in charge of renewing the wards and charms as well as sweeping floors and emptying chamberpots.

And of course Mylla in The Willow Knot spends the first part of the story repairing and maintaining a derelict cottage so she and her brother will have shelter.

Terri-Lynne said...

I am loathe to say I've never read a Diana Wynne Jones. Sounds like a character I'd love. Perhaps I shall have to make it my first. :)

Yes, Mylla! Absolute hausfrau material, well, until she leaves that cottage for...her new life.