Diary of a Mad Housewife, The Adorableness of Online Life, & An Imaginary Latin-thon

Diary of a Mad Housewife by Sue KaufmanI learned about Sue Kaufman’s Diary of a Mad Housewife from Public Radio.

“The Bookshelf,” a local program on NPR, was a favorite at our house.  At 6:30 (when I was making dinner), the classical music hosts took turns reading aloud their favorite books.  Sometimes it would take two weeks, sometimes a month. It was often touching:   I will never forget listening to Tennyson’s Idylls of the King.

The show was canceled.  Budget cuts.

After seeing the movie, I read Diary of a Mad Housewife, published in 1967.  But it made little impression.  Thanks to NPR for helping me rediscover it.

It is a small masterpiece, a kind of female odyssey of the ’60s that ranks with early Philip Roth.  Like so many American women’s books of the ’60s, it literally is small:  306 pages, as opposed to the baggy monsters.

Tina, the narrator, a Smith graduate, housewife, and former aspiring artist, keeps a diary.  Her status-conscious husband, a partner at a law firm, drags her to parties where he is obsequious to  famous artists and theater people who despise him.  Tina stands in the corner, not bothering to talk.  Once she retires to the bathroom for 15 minutes.

The marriage is ghastly, the product of her psychoanalyis.  After a small breakdown, she entered analysis with Dr. Popkin, who taught her that women want marriage and a happy home, not art.  She works as a secretary at a hospital, but does not, alas, meet any eligible men.

…I never met any of the Nice Young Doctor types Popkin had hinted I might.  I met only married or unmarried doctors who wanted just one thing and wanted it fast–a thing I wasn’t supposed to give to anyone, fast or slow, what with my brand-new Insights:  Femininity = Discretion = No Jumping Into Bed.  I was all for Femininity, but my social life got pretty drab.

Popkin suggests she join the local Democratic Club to meet men; she meets Jonathan and falls in love with his ideals, but mostly with his red suspenders, she is embarrassed to remember.

Carrie Snodgrass in "Diary of a Mad Housewife"

Carrie Snodgrass in “Diary of a Mad Housewife”

Tina is privileged.  I won’t pretend she isn’t.  She has a gem of a hired woman who comes in several days a week.

But after Jonathan complains about her neglect of the house, she hires a laundress and window washer for the day.  The laundress washes only one load of clothes and spends the rest of time eating, smoking, and attempting to steal Jonathan’s gourmet food.  (The daily woman stops her.)  The window washer is great with squeegees, but steals a few valuable items from her husband’s study.

Tina can’t cope–and who can blame her?

I’d planned to spend the day at home, doing some work myself–cleaning closets, drawers–while those major chores were getting done, but I suddenly knew I had to get out of that nuthouse, even if it was for just an hour.

She flees to the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  It’s the first time in 14 years she’s been there without the children, and it helps her to remember who she is.

The scene reminds me of my own inability to cope with “maids.”  The one time I had a maid service in, when I was getting ready to sell a house, I cleaned it thoroughly first.  I fled while they cleaned, and when I came back they had done very little.  At least I got them to dust the ceiling fans.

More on The Diary of a Mad Housewife later.

THE ADORABLENESS OF ONLINE LIFE.  The online literary life can be adorable.  I’m sure you know that.

Take Dovegreyreader’s hosting of a monthly discussion of Vikram Seth’s A Suitable Boy.  Why not read along? I thought.   Perhaps it will be interesting.

So I ordered a hardcover copy for a penny.

I came home from a bike ride to find a gigantic box on my porch.

What on earth?  I wondered

Good God, it couldn’t be a book.

It was a brick!

I opened it and…. it is a brick, with 1,349 pages of small print.

A Suitable Boy is almost as big as my big Lewis and Short Latin dictionary.  It is bigger than my copy of War and Peace.

I like to sprawl with a book.  I like to read in the supine position.

I will have to sit up.

Perhaps I’ll get the e-book.

There isn’t an e-book.

I’ll read it though.

Luv ya, Dovegreyreader, but gosh!!!???????

The next item is adorable.   It’s the 24-Hour Readathon at Dewey’s Read-a-thon.  A favorite blogger linked me there, and, though the Readathon is cute, it is insane.  On Saturday,  October 12, a group of energetic bloggers, tweeters, and Facebook-ers plan to read for 24 hours and post about it throughout the day.

I plan to spend at least eight hours on Oct. 12 knocked out on Sominex, Valerian, or  Ambien (it’s the weekend!).  And then off to the Iowa City Book Festival.  It’s the weekend!  We go outside!

This does, however, inspire me to create an Imaginary Latin-Read-a-Thon.  Yes, on Saturday, Oct. 19, we can PRETEND to read Latin poetry and post, tweet, whatever.  Only for two hours though:  I’m not insane. I mean, I might read Latin for two hours, but I won’t post about it.

Perhaps I can hunt down my old classics cronies.  One of my (former) adult ed students could translate a little Wheelock.

Now what famous classicists can I invite?  And let me just say there will be wine.

As Horace says in Latin,

Vile potabis modicis Sabinum

Or, as we say in English,

“You will drink cheap Sabine wine in plain/cups..,”

I’m sure the five famous classicists I plan to invite have nothing better to do on Saturday morning than hang out online.  It is their dream.  But it’s only an IMAGINARY invitation, okay?

I will invite:

1.  Sir Peter Stothard, editor of TLS, a classicist, and author of Alexandria:  The Last Nights of Cleopatra, a memoir of his fascination with Cleopatra.

2.  Chris Martin of Coldplay, who graduated with first-class honors in classics at London College University.

3.  Victor Davis Hanson, a classicist and historian at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, the author of many books, among them Who Killed Homer?: The Demise of Classical Education and the Recovery of Greek Wisdom, with John Heath; Fields Without Dreams: Defending the Agrarian Idea; The End of Sparta: A Novel; and The Father of Us All: War and History, Ancient and Modern”.

4.  David Meadows, a Latin teacher and ABD in Roman Studies at McMaster University who runs the great Rogueclassicism website.

5.  J. K. Rowling:  she minored in classics, and I very much liked her book, The Casual Vacancy.

So see ya on Oct. 19!  But remember, it’s imaginary.:)  So I won’t be here!

4 thoughts on “Diary of a Mad Housewife, The Adorableness of Online Life, & An Imaginary Latin-thon

  1. Makes my version of Brothers Karamazov (just started) look quite small at under 900 pages – good luck!!

    I love the idea of a 24 hour readathon but I think nowadays I don’t have the stamina – I could probably manage 12…….. 🙂


  2. The Diary of a Mad Housewife is a subgenre: there are so many books of this type — as women have been driven mad by their worlds but only could get such books published in this vein in the 1930s and after. Online life has its compensations — and they are many. I’ll read what you say about your imaginary reading Latin-thon.


  3. Karen, tell me if the Brothers K is good. I started it once and didn’t get far but I would like to try Dostoevsky again. Yeah, 12 hours…but still…well, maybe I could last!:)

    Yes, there are a number of housewife novels from the ’30s. (Maybe before. Could we count The Awakening as a housewife novel? But somehow I don’t remember Edna doing housework!) I wonder if Diary of a Mad Housewife is a breakout novel in some ways. I haven’t gotten to the part about Tina’s affair, but, as I recall, what she discovers is that her lover is just as patronizing as her husband. It’s very much in the spirit of the American ’60s… very cynical and sad.


  4. Pingback: The Lazy Blogger: Monopoly Money, Project Women’s Almost-Classics, & Should Novelists Be Paid More? | mirabile dictu

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