Fruitful: On Motherhood and Feminism

Anne Richardson Roiphe, Author Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (HMH) $22.95 (260p) ISBN 978-0-395-73531-2
Motherhood hasn't been easy for the author of Up the Sandbox and six other novels and two nonfiction works. Breaking through what she considers a conspiracy of maternal silence, Roiphe wants to assign blame for the sorrows of raising children in our times. She herself has a family of six daughters, a mixture of hers, his and theirs, so has the right to be heard. Most important, she feels feminists have ignored and shortchanged mothers. Simultaneously, she is tormented by sacrifices motherhood may demand. She lists as many outstanding 19th-century female writers as she can find (Austen, Eliot, Dickinson, Wharton and others) and points out that none of them had children. ""Are passion and love and beauty irreconcilable with domestic life?"" she wonders. ""Is maternity keeping us from destiny as creative people?"" She never answers her own question but wrestles with a daunting morass of guilt about her own mothering and that of her generation born in the late 1930s. There are some moments of joy here, but they are constantly overshadowed by a sense of a generation at war with itself. Roiphe takes aim with uncanny accuracy at many painful dilemmas instantly recognizable by any mother: the effect of a working mother on her children; the sufficiency of being a ""good-enough mother."" She also raises vital issues about our attitudes to children as a society but confuses them by laying out a sweeping utopian agenda of desirable family and community virtues, including expecting the community to care about all of its children, bringing men into the home as a matter of course and creating nonbureaucratic day care. In the end, however, Roiphe tells us: ""The only thing I know for sure is that I would rather have a child than a book, I would rather have a warm-blooded body to carry my message to the world than the most perfect of artistic creations issued in my name."" The true question here is why she sees the choice as so stark. First serial to Glamour. (Oct.)
Reviewed on: 09/02/1996
Release date: 09/01/1996
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