Virtual champagne all around because I’m celebrating the launch of my twelfth Molly Murphy book, THE FAMILY WAY. When Molly fled from Ireland in Murphy’s Law I never imagined that she’d be around this long, or that she’d be happily married by this time.
As you can surmise from the title she is pregnant and the story considers the true meaning of family. But my Molly books seem to have gravitated toward highlighting the role of women in the early twentieth century and especially the injustices to women—the suffrage movement, the lack of rights, lack of freedom, even the dreaded corset that made women’s lives such a misery. This book is no different: it focuses on the difference between being pregnant and married and being pregnant and unmarried—literally the difference between life and death for a lot of girls. And the unfair double standard in which the man walks away with reputation and life intact while the woman’s life will never be the same again.
When I write about the early nineteen hundreds it’s strange. I want to keep everything as authentic as possible, but there are certain aspects I have to avoid. Some things are just too modern. Nobody would believe some of the slang because it sounds as if it comes from the Sixties. Did you know they said “Far out?” And who would believe that Molly opened a can of chili for dinner? And yet I have a photograph of a display of cans of chili on Macy’s food counter, 1900.
The other parts of life I choose not to mention, for fear of turning off my readers, are things that people of the time took for granted: kitchens swarming with cockroaches, mice, rats, even in the best of households.( You don’t see any cockroaches in the kitchen in Downton Abbey but I bet there were some.) Bedbugs, fleas, lice. Hair that is washed every few months. Clothes that are sponged down but never laundered or dry-cleaned. People who take a bath in front of the kitchen fire once a week. No shampoo. No toothpaste. No feminine products. Certainly no deodorant. Life was dirty and smelly for most people. But because they took the smells for granted, I choose to skip over them. Although I do let the reader see what hard work it was to do the laundry in a tub, put it through the mangle, beat the carpets, shop every day for food because there is no refrigerator or to watch a loved one die because there are no antibiotics.
I’m really thankful I live today, aren’t you? I can vote, own property, drive my own car, know that nothing is going to scurry across my kitchen floor at night, throw my clothes in the washer and bring them out clean... So as a woman, what are you most thankful for in our modern life? Improvements in health-care, sanitation or freedom ? We’ve come a long way, baby, but is there still a way to go?