Down on the farm

Betty MacDonald was a very young newly wed in 1927. After a brief honeymoon her husband announced that his life's ambition was to run a chicken farm, so off the young couple went to a remote patch of land in Washington State, and started up the chicken farm. The community was isolated with long distances between dwellings, and the nearest "town" little more than a village. It was a hard life, and could have been the end of many a happy marriage, but Betty MacDonald survived the day-to-day tussles with idiotic chickens, eccentric smallholders, and the evil-minded Stove (an inanimate object that acquired quite a character through the course of the memoirs) with great good humour.

The egg and I is wonderfully funny, as well as being a real testament to a late blossoming of the pioneer spirit. At the time the memoirs were originally published, they received rave reviews. More modern reviewers have not been so kind. I personally found some of the comments on Native Americans offensive, but in the context of the times in which it was written (1945) MacDonald was generally quite positive about the native tribes - it's clear from the narrative that her husband had good relationships with many natives.

The mores are very much of the time - a woman's place is definitely in the home, but this doesn't mean that MacDonald is subserviant to her husband. The remote location of their home forces them to be a partnership, and although firmly set in the twentieth century, there is a very real sense of what it would have meant to have been a pioneer woman with family on the trail. A great book to read just to get a sense of what it was like to live in that time and place, but also wonderfully funny; one of the great classic comic reads.


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