We will get to the cute vicar in a minute, I promise, but let’s start with what I read because … I did read, folks. I gobbled up We Too, which is an in-depth (non-fiction) account of Victoria and Albert’s marriage. The book was recommended to me by several BCRL readers, and I can heartily endorse the recommendation. You might query the need for such a narrowly-focused biography, but if you are interested in the Victorian era, this is the best psychological portrait of its two figureheads. I’m not sure that V&A’s relationship qualifies as a “romance of the century”, but it was certainly a very successful partnership that brought satisfaction to both parties (which, based on my informal study of history, is no mean feat for a royal marriage). The book does an excellent job of showing how unlikely a result this was, given the strong personalities of both parties and the unconventional circumstances they faced. I liked that the author remained largely impartial, making neither spouse a “good guy” or a “bad guy”. My overall impression was that Albert probably had more admirable qualities, but Victoria was the more likable of the two. I will say that the more I read about her, the more fascinating a character she appears to me.

I also read One Night in Winter by Simon Sebag Montefiori, who also wrote the (non-fiction) biography of the Romanovs I wrote about a while back. This was an excellent book, but a difficult read for me. Having grown up in an ultra repressive communist regime, books about life during the Stalin years should probably be off my reading list because they simply hit too close to home. Montefiori nailed the sense of oppressive dread that permeates every facet of daily life in a communist regime where your every word could mean life and death for someone (including your own children or parents). The book is loosely based on a real story, the death of two children of high ranking Communist party members in 1945. In a way, I would call this the Soviet version of The Secret Game by Donna Tartt, except in this case the protagonists are largely not culpable for the terrible things that happen to them. I found some of the scenes in the book hard to read, especially as a mother of young children, so keep that in mind (not so much graphic violence as terrible cruelty).

Alright, alright. I teased you with a hot vicar, and here he is:

'ello, vicar!
‘ello, vicar!

So, Grantchester. There are many things I liked about season 1, not least of them Mr. Norton, and a few things that bugged me. Let me start by saying that I totally buy Norton’s jazz-loving, gin-guzzling, weed whacking (not a euphemism), tortured gentle soul. 100%, no questions. (I have not seen Happy Valley yet, but would be interested to see how he plays a psycho.) What I did not buy, however, was the chemistry between Sidney and Amanda, or the reasons that kept them apart. For me, that was a big problem, because the show devotes a lot of time to that plot line. It bored me, much as I appreciated watching James Norton look adorably forlorn. The rest of the show and characters were very enjoyable, however. I loved Sidney’s camaraderie with Geordie, and his relationships with his housekeeper and curate. The mysteries are pretty straightforward, but I liked watching S&G piece together the answers. Overall, I liked the series a lot, but didn’t find it as compulsively watchable as Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries; indeed, I found myself more than once wishing that someone like Phryne would cross the vicar’s path. Alas, did not happen.

I would like to watch seasons 2 and 3, without having to pay extra for the pleasure, so I really hope that Netflix adds them to their line-up soon. Ditto for the Miss Marple mysteries. Come on, Netflix!

As always, let’s wrap up with some interesting articles. This article about a manufacturer switching the brand labels on clothing sent to a particular retailer was somewhat amusing at first, but mostly enraging on second thought. I would have expected something like this to be against the law, but apparently not. The fact that every facet of the entire clothing production-retail cycle is so obscure to consumers is beginning to bother me more and more. How can consumers make informed choices when they are being kept in the dark, or worse yet, deliberately hoodwinked? Gah.

There was an interesting discussion on Corporette this week, sparked by this article which questions the trope that motherhood is the most important job a woman can have. It got me thinking. Motherhood is not a job. It’s not even a volunteer position, because you are essentially creating the people who will later need your help. It’s a hobby. Hear me out. A job means a position where you create value (through a product or service) to someone external to yourself and get remunerated for it. Having kids does have, at a macro level, a societal value. We need new people to keep our social systems going. But at the individual level, your particular kids or mine represent a relatively small value to society. (I mean, yes, they could turn out to be the next Gandhi or Einstein, but there are no guarantees. They could just be the same as millions or billions of other people out there.) The societal value of your motherhood is compensated through things like tax benefits, tax breaks, etc. Beyond that, the primary value of motherhood is to yourself. People have kids to please themselves. It sounds almost wrong to put it like that, but it’s true. Some people value having kids, some don’t — just like some people value running or crocheting, and some don’t. Is it the most important hobby? Ideally, if it’s a hobby you’ve decided to take on, then yes. It should be the most important because it involves the well-being of small humans who are utterly dependent on you. Should it be the most important hobby to every woman in the world? Of course not. It’s not biologically necessary for every woman on earth to have kids, and at the personal level, importance is completely subjective. I understand why some women might want to stress its importance — it’s something that falls predominantly on female shoulders and women are encouraged by society to sacrifice other opportunities to take it on. They want recognition for that, and that’s fair. But I think that treating motherhood like a job just perpetuates the patriarchal status quo. I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Lastly, not an article, but I recently discovered Justine Leconte’s YouTube channel, and she is delightful.

11 Comments on What I Read (and Watched): Cute Vicar Edition

  1. We must be traveling in similar internet circles, because I was also engrossed in that Corporette thread and discovered Justine’s channel this week.

    I completely agree with your thoughts on motherhood. It does not, in and of itself, provide a good or service to society that is rewarded with pay. It does INDIRECTLY benefit society if (big if) the children in question grow up to be productive, generous, thoughtful citizens. But that’s a big if.

    I’ve often thought about how we ultimately have children to please ourselves, to give ourselves something to do (does that sound too cold? I don’t mean it to) in the second half of our lives. How many of us, even those who very much wanted children, really consider the world we are giving them and what it will feel like for them to grow up in it? Much of it is to fill our lives and to give our lives some kind of definition and purpose. Which is fine, but I think it needs to be acknowledged.

    We are lucky to live in times that give us the choice whether or not to have children (see The Handmaid’s Tale for a vision of a terrifying alternate reality in which this is not the case). The least we can do is really consider the choice within the context of today’s cultural, political and social climate.

  2. But, I’m not mad that people refer to motherhood as a job. I imagine the desire to equate child-raising with a “job” is that SO MANY people, including many working spouses, de-value the work of raising children and running the household (especially so for stay at home moms).

    I’m a full-time working mother, and thankfully my husband believes in splitting childcare and household chores 50/50 (as he should). But for many women (both working and not working outside the home), this is not the case. So, calling it a job is in many ways a way to re-claim value and re-claim power.

    • I totally get that, and it is infuriating when men do not recognize the value THEY get from parenthood where all the actual work is done by someone else. But I still think that calling it a “job” (or a “career”) ultimately just undermines women. It subtly underscores the argument that the exercise of a biological function is equivalent to being a firefighter or a nurse. I think there has to be a better way to frame that conversation about the imbalance in gender-based parenting norms.

      Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s perfectly OK to opt out of working, in favour of staying home — and that is whether you’re doing it to raise kids or something else that brings you pleasure and/or happiness. I think part of the problem is that society (especially in North America) doesn’t view that as a perfectly acceptable life goal. The idea that someone doesn’t need a job to be defined by, or to be an accomplished individual. If I had the means, I would probably not work and just spend my time reading and traveling, and trying to become some sort of modern day Renaissance woman (assuming my kids were older/grown up). In some ways, I would feel far more accomplished than I do now; in other ways, I’m sure I would feel guilty and judged and un-valued by society as a “stay at home wife”. So I think there is a separate discussion to be had about how society views the importance of work.

  3. It’s too early for me to digest your thoughts on motherhood – I’ll have to read and think about that later, but I had to tell you that every time I think I should watch Grantchester, I have flashbacks to Happy Valley and shudder, he is so good at being bad. That being said, Happy Valley is brilliant television – uncomfortable to watch, but highly recommended!

    • He must be a good actor then, because he’s very convincing as a good guy. He was also adorable in Death Comes to Pemberley so I’m having a hard time visualizing the opposite. Not sure I want to either 😉

  4. But hobby indicates that I can change my mind about whether I want to continue or not, or pick up a new hobby if I wish. Or one might argue that my “job” should always supersede my “hobby.” I much prefer using another term you used above – value. Perhaps parenthood is a core value for you or it’s not. And it can exist with other core values you may have, for instance financial independence.

    p.s. I have a pet peeve about this so here goes – it’s Gandhi, not Ghandi.

  5. Yay for Grantchester! I felt like the show improved in later seasons so you’ll have to watch. I think I ended up being able to watch Season 2 when I got a PBS membership and their passport viewing program and then it’ll be back on PBS in June I just read.

    I’m also really enjoying Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries. I saw it mentioned by about 3 people at the same time (including you) and I’m enjoying the payoff – sassy and sweet.

  6. Oh, that Ivanka Trump-Adrienne Vittadini labeling story… I didn’t initially have much of a reaction to it, probably because of how cynical I am about clothing production. Because of how opaque clothing production is, I already assume the worst about pretty much every company. It was interesting how the story peeled back the curtain a tiny bit on how archaic the licensing and other arrangements are.

    I would be absolutely incensed if I had been put in a situation where I was unknowingly purchasing a Trump product. At the same time, I think I’d, er, essentially assumed that Ivanka products were all picked out of catalogs of ready-made designs at a few Chinese factories with minimal customization or actual “design” work from anyone at Ivanka HQ (which I assume is how some, say, blogger fashion lines are also “designed”). I’m not shocked that Ivanka Trump products might, outside of the name on the label, be identical to products from other brands in the same price range.

    • I had the same response! It did make me think more about labeling and how you always like to think you aren’t influenced by the tag on something. I’m sure, though, if I went into a nordstrom or wherever and they had cut the brand tag off every single item of clothing, I very well might walk out with different things than I would if I could see the label and weigh that in my purchasing decision.

  7. I really appreciated hearing your thoughts on motherhood, as it’s something I think about myself from time to time. I don’t have kids, but I kind of cringe any time someone says motherhood is a “job”. Employment is a defined agreement between employee and employer – each has certain rights and obligations. You can quit a job; can you quit being a mother? I think it’s something beyond a job – a job should not define you. Sure, I love my job (and I say this after a very long week) but it’s not all that I am. Neither should being a mother be all that you are; just part of what you are as a person. That being said, being a mother, I think, is different and somehow “more” than just having a job.

    I really enjoy these conversations on your blog and I appreciate all the thoughtful comments!