At Home American Family

Elisabeth Donaghy Garrett, Author, Elisabeth Donaghy Garrett, Author ABRAMS $49.5 (304p) ISBN 978-0-8109-1894-8
The tranquil expressions of the women in the period portraits illustrating Garrett's opus belie the deep domestic drudgery of colonial housekeeping. In her scrupulously researched book, the vice-president of Sotheby's Manhattan analyzes early American family life chamber by chamber, studying paintings, personal writings, even poetry. A housewife, judged by her linen closet, exerted herculean efforts maintaining it: countless hours of laundering, repairing and ironing tablecloths and the elaborate bed hangings that kept out the cold. There was the endless polishing of floors and windows, pewter and mirrors, and the equally humble chore of banishing ubiquitous dust, mud and candle drippings. Two final chapters give such toil a human, comprehensible dimension, suggesting that a well-run home was a woman's way of battling, physically and symbolically, the disease and death of her day. So seen, domestic details of floor and wall coverings and furniture style and placement accumulate and resonate. (Oct.)
Reviewed on: 08/29/1990
Release date: 09/01/1990
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