Memoir by Clarence Day.

In 1935, the United States was in the throes of a full-blown Victorian Revival: while the more affluent could afford to buy Federalist-era antiques, or at least their clones, less affluent Americans bought used furniture (defined, back then, as furniture less than a hundred years old). In addition, Hollywood had discovered the 19th century as a goldmine of classy properties that fell outside copyright laws. Also, the New Century beginning to show its age: while in the Teens and Twenties, it could be argued that the New Era was still, despite a World War, an unprecedented era of light and knowlege, the Depression had turned all this back into "business as usual". At the same time, the Victorian Era seemed, as all past eras seem, the Age of Innocence, when order and respectability were their own reward.

It was in this era, that Clarence Day, Jr. wrote his stories (published in the New Yorker) of Life with Clarence Day, Sr., known to his wife, Lavinia, "Vinny", as "Clare".

Mr. Day lives in the manly Gilded Age, when men were men, and women said "Yes, dear." He is the Autocrat of the Breakfast Table, the sole and imperious leader of the family, working all day at the priestly job of stockbroker, mediator between the mighty forces of the Market Economy and the common man, provider for his loving family....

...who aren't having very much of it. Mostly, life goes on despite Father's railings rather than because of them. Vinny loves him and all, but manages to find her own form of freedom through buying Oriental rugs from street vendors and objets d'art at auction, passing them off as "old wedding presents", Clarence Jr. simply ducks and knuckles under. Time after time, comedy is wrung from Father's iron-willed insistence that his way is not only the best way, but the only way. Yes, this sounds awful. But it's good. Read it, and you'll see.

Part of the book's continuing fascination is its myriad details of life as it was lived in the late 19th century. Life moves on foot or on horseback or horse-drawn vehicles, with all concomittant problems -- the infinite complexities of horse ownership (which horse? which carriage? is the horse hot or tired or in a bad mood? )Rapid transportation by rail means being exposed to large clouds of gritty black smoke, and the Hudson, which I remember even in my childhood as being a sparkling blue, is yellow-brown with sewage. Food is much more expensive than we can imagine, and bought daily: often Father eats chops and the family, by no means poor, eats stew, and at one point, a social catastrophe is brought on by the four sons' having eaten every last scrap in the house. Sickness is also a constant factor. Clarence Jr. catches malaria, and Mother's confinements after childbirth last several weeks. However Father doesn't believe in microbes: to him all illness is a defect of will. But over and above that, the book enchants: there is an eyewitness account of the Columbian Exhibition of 1893, the glitter of a dinner party in Old New York, and the warm affection in which everyone in the house ultimately basks.

Since its publication, Life with Father, and its sequel, Life with Mother, has been anthologized, performed on Broadway, made into a movie, and was a much-loved television series in the 1950's. More than a hundred years after the fact, the Day household remains an American classic.

Log in or registerto write something here or to contact authors.