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Standard Household-Effect Company, the (from Literature and Life)   By: (1837-1920)

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LITERATURE AND LIFE The Standard Household Effect Company

by William Dean Howells


My friend came in the other day, before we had left town, and looked round at the appointments of the room in their summer shrouds, and said, with a faint sigh, "I see you have had the eternal womanly with you, too."


"Isn't the eternal womanly everywhere? What has happened to you?" I asked.

"I wish you would come to my house and see. Every rug has been up for a month, and we have been living on bare floors. Everything that could be tied up has been tied up, everything that could be sewed up has been sewed up. Everything that could be moth balled and put away in chests has been moth balled and put away. Everything that could be taken down has been taken down. Bags with draw strings at their necks have been pulled over the chandeliers and tied. The pictures have been hidden in cheese cloth, and the mirrors veiled in gauze so that I cannot see my own miserable face anywhere."

"Come! That's something."

"Yes, it's something. But I have been thinking this matter over very seriously, and I believe it is going from bad to worse. I have heard praises of the thorough housekeeping of our grandmothers, but the housekeeping of their granddaughters is a thousand times more intense."

"Do you really believe that?" I asked. "And if you do, what of it?"

"Simply this, that if we don't put a stop to it, at the gait it's going, it will put a stop to the eternal womanly."

"I suppose we should hate that."

"Yes, it would be bad. It would be very bad; and I have been turning the matter over in my mind, and studying out a remedy."

"The highest type of philosopher turns a thing over in his mind and lets some one else study out a remedy."

"Yes, I know. I feel that I may be wrong in my processes, but I am sure that I am right in my results. The reason why our grandmothers could be such good housekeepers without danger of putting a stop to the eternal womanly was that they had so few things to look after in their houses. Life was indefinitely simpler with them. But the modern improvements, as we call them, have multiplied the cares of housekeeping without subtracting its burdens, as they were expected to do. Every novel convenience and comfort, every article of beauty and luxury, every means of refinement and enjoyment in our houses, has been so much added to the burdens of housekeeping, and the granddaughters have inherited from the grandmothers an undiminished conscience against rust and the moth, which will not suffer them to forget the least duty they owe to the naughtiest of their superfluities."

"Yes, I see what you mean," I said. This is what one usually says when one does not quite know what another is driving at; but in this case I really did know, or thought I did. "That survival of the conscience is a very curious thing, especially in our eternal womanly. I suppose that the North American conscience was evolved from the rudimental European conscience during the first centuries of struggle here, and was more or less religious and economical in its origin. But with the advance of wealth and the decay of faith among us, the conscience seems to be simply conscientious, or, if it is otherwise, it is social. The eternal womanly continues along the old lines of housekeeping from an atavistic impulse, and no one woman can stop because all the other women are going on. It is something in the air, or something in the blood. Perhaps it is something in both."

"Yes," said my friend, quite as I had said already, "I see what you mean. But I think it is in the air more than in the blood. I was in Paris, about this time last year, perhaps because I was the only thing in my house that had not been swathed in cheese cloth, or tied up in a bag with drawstrings, or rolled up with moth balls and put away in chests. At any rate, I was there. One day I left my wife in New York carefully tagging three worn out feather dusters, and putting them into a pillow case, and tagging it, and putting the pillow case into a camphorated self sealing paper sack, and tagging it; and another day I was in Paris, dining at the house of a lady whom I asked how she managed with the things in her house when she went into the country for the summer... Continue reading book >>

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