I recently re-read Hidden Lives (1995) by Margaret Forster which had made such an impression on me years ago, and it proved to be just as good a read the second time round. This led to me trying to recall where I'd come across more about MF's domestic and working arrangements (she has always done everything herself without help but with support from her husband while writing numerous books and bringing up three children) and I suddenly remembered it was The Compleat Woman Marriage, Motherhood, Career: Can She Have it All? (1986) by Valerie Grove. This had been one of the great serendipitous book finds of my thirties and I absorbed every single story it contained of different women achieving great things while married with at least three children, Margaret Forster included.
['Mama comes on a tractor', 1960]
I thought it would be interesting to re-read this as well, now that I have had my own experience of marriage, motherhood and work, and I have just raced through it with great enjoyment, a sense of astonishment at what some women do with their lives, a feeling that several were far more formidable and fierce than I'd remembered, and a realisation that many had had tremendous advantages and resources which had improved their lot - something I hadn't quite appreciated first time round when my first reaction was mostly one of awe and fascination. As you would imagine, they were all extremely talented and hard-working, organised their lives to accommodate their work, and virtually all of them had equally remarkable husbands.
However, the book already seems a little dated and I expect it would attract some criticism if it were written this way today. There is a preponderence of London families, doctors, and Oxford-educated women (8 out of 20, plus 2 who went to Cambridge) and an enormous emphasis throughout on fine schools and Oxbridge generally (most of the husbands and children seem to have gone to one or the other, as well) which makes it feel rather exclusive. There are also a fair few interviewees who were were very well-connected from the start (not many Margaret Forsters), and there's a huge reliance on paid help (nannies, au pairs, housekeepers, cleaners) which is to be expected given the the careers these women were pursuing.
However, I finished by thinking that many of the women lived in a world I didn't and don't fully recognise, and that I would now really like to know more about 'compleat women' who have lived less rarefied lives, have emerged from more diverse backgrounds, and who have achieved success in a wider variety of fields (beyond those of medicine, law, education and writing). The basic premise, though, is still brilliant (minimum 25 years of marriage and 3 children, plus an equally successful career to that of the husband) but it would be very interesting to cast the net wider in terms of career type and geography and to find who are, or come closest to being, the 'compleat women' of today.
[I have just discovered that it is very difficult to find paintings of women pictured with their children and husbands/partners but clearly depicted as workers/bread-winners or even in any image other than the classic, seated, motherly position/domestic setting. So I chose some Socialist Realist images of 'compleat women' because the USSR/China assumed women would marry, produce a comrade or two, and work.]