Cool Summer Nights & Dorothy Van Doren’s “The Country Wife”

This lovely summer matches our parents’ descriptions of mid-twentieth century summers.  Although it is hot by day, it actually cools off at night.   We’d heard that could happen.

Tonight we even wore sweaters. Oh joy!  How wonderful not to need the air conditioner. 

Summer is more relaxed than spring, fall, or winter.  It is a time for fun dinners.  I recommend pancakes with berries and whipped cream.  The pancake mix is one thing I have mastered.  

There are many summer tasks I never get around to, like making jam and canning vegetables.  If I did these things,  I’d have to write bright posts about runny jam and over-cooked veggies.  Kitty in Anna Karenina makes excellent jam. Tolstoy doesn’t give us the recipe. 

And so I am rereading  Dorothy Van Doren’s The Country Wife (1950), a charming collection of light essays about summers in a Connecticut farmhouse. Dorothy does all the tasks I never do.   Summer is the highlight of the year for Dorothy,  her husband Mark Van Doren (the critic and poet), and their two sons.  She gardens, endures her husband’s carpentry projects, gets scratched-up picking blackberries, learns to eat puffballs, cans vegetables, and entertains guests (some welcome, some not).  I love the idea of being “a country wife.”

And yet Dorothy never mentions that she was also an editor of The Nation.  In the ’40s, ’50s, and ’60s, domestic columnists didn’t say they  had jobs.   Think of Shirley Jackson and Alice Thomas Ellis.  Like Dorothy Van Doren, they were high-powered women. You wouln’t guess it from their columns.

But the point of domestic columns is domesticity. Here is an excerpt from The Country Wife.

Time, as it has a way of doing, passes.  The corn is silking, the tomatoes are large and green, the roses and delphiniums are over, and the annuals are beginning to bloom.  It is pretty hot in the daytime and we are thankful for our cool nights.  And on one of those nights, when it is not so cool and I am wakeful, the calendar comes home to me with rude force:  next Wednesday will be the first of August!

The times may be bad, but at least there’s summer!

5 thoughts on “Cool Summer Nights & Dorothy Van Doren’s “The Country Wife””

  1. Thank you, Kat. It’s a clammy summer night here in Western Massachusetts. The temperature has finally dropped into the 70s, and I’m up late worrying about the two articles due Wednesday night for my hometown weekly. Everyone’s lawns are brown–we haven’t had rain in nearly two weeks–and one article will be on the likelihood of a ban on unnecessary outdoor water usage this summer: 50/50, says the head of our water dept.
    The second will be on the likelihood that the town will allow the “Big E”–billed as “New England’s Great State Fair”–to open in September. The exec dir, who is paid $349,000 a year, claims the show will go on. The town is split, with half demanding deep-fried Mars bars on a stick and carnival rides and the other half crying, “No!” to the idea of 1.6 million visitors trekking through our town of 28,000 souls over 17 days.
    And once again nearly the end of June, and once again I haven’t made strawberry jam either.

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    1. Ah, those are the summer nights we usually have. Fascinating about your articles. That State Fair controversy is here, too (cancelled and lamented). I had no idea so many wanted deep-fried Mars bars!
      The water conservation usually starts here in July, but so far it looks like Ireland.

      Fingers crossed that we don’t need water conservation (though we prob will).

      Somebody must make jam!

      Like

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