When she was eight years old, Rose became a designated sacrificial virgin. Her mother had recently given birth with difficulty to twin boys, against the advice of the family physician, and thereafter became bedridden. The little daughter was to care for mother, babies, younger brothers, father, and home, and never attended school on a regular basis afterwards. It was pretty much the rule that in case of the failure of the mother, an unmarried daughter would be pressed into service to take her place. This was the understanding pretty much the world over at that time. Even so aged eight was, one would have thought, too young.
There were other female relative, including the maternal grandmother, but it seems no other arrangement was considered, or any changes made, although the father’s family was quite prosperous. This not only deprived the child of the mothering she herself needed, and the teaching that would prepare her for domestic labor, but of the education that would enable her to take her place in her society.
Amazingly, the family survived, leaving Rose with a great hunger for learning and a grimly determined ambition to succeed in the world. She would always strive, and although often poor, her own married family never collapsed into utter destitution. Her father seems to have appreciated Rose, and for a long time took a real part in raising his grandchildren.
Psychological research has shown that young animals deprived of maternal care are frequently unable to nurture their own young. In her own children’s view Rose gets a mixed report. Besides the usual care and feeding, she made clothes, dolls and other things for them, and planned presents, parties, and treats. They went to church, school, (Rose was vigilant about their education), were socially supervised and defended bravely by Rose when needed, but there seems to be some hesitation in naming her a ‘Good Mother’.
This may be a reflection of the current attitude towards women at that time, most probably also because Rose, who was academically gifted, was almost obsessively determined to earn needed money, and some recognition by writing. Poor Rose! She struggled in the traditional ways, sending off her manuscripts one after another without success. Meanwhile her children felt very neglected when they had to manage for themselves.
People need to keep growing all their lives. When you stop learning, you are dying! Life does not stand still. Rose, with erratic school experiences, was not well socialized, and perhaps, too because she had grown up to be a bit unusual, was not a popular woman among her peers, although she tried hard. Men found her more acceptable (she was pretty), but women were more critical.
At last though, her dogged determination paid off; she was able to force herself into a college, breezed through to a degree, and got a job teaching school, which she loved. Then she found herself disastrously pregnant. Her husband couldn’t understand why she wasn’t overjoyed! (Another failure as a woman!) After the birth of her son, Rose had to fight to get back to teaching. Just in time! Soon the family began to benefit from a little prosperity, and when her husband’s business trickled to a stop, they were able to live off her wages.
Rose’s saga is worth reading, and I particularly admire the honesty with which her eldest daughter examines it. As with any other book, what the reader carries away from it will depend on the experiences of his or her own life. I liked Rose. She made mistakes, and her life didn’t end entirely happily, but she was a very human, loving and lovable being. One who held my interest to the end.
Written by an anonymous Book Club Member.