So, I finished reading Loving Frank for my book club meeting this week. I'm not going to review it save this: it was a good book, well-written, and I liked it.
Wow, I'm smart.
What I do want to talk about is the subject of the book. If you haven't read it, the basic premise is as follows: Mamah Cheney is a married woman with two small children. She and her husband, Edwin, hire Frank Lloyd Wright to design their home. She falls in love with Frank, and realizes that she not only loves someone else, she actually never loved her husband. She leaves him and joins Frank on a trip to Berlin. She asks her husband for a divorce, which he eventually grants. Cause: desertion. I won't say much more as not to ruin the (very shocking and unexpected) ending.
I actually finished the book last week, but I've been mulling it around in my head. Mr Earth is tired of talking about a book he hasn't read, so you, my lovely readers are the recipients of my thoughts.
I absolutely believe that if Mamah doesn't love her husband, and, in fact, never loved him, then she should have left him. I've never been a fan of the whole idea of "staying together for the sake of the children". While I respect the thought and love behind to the decision to stay together for the children, I think it does them a disservice in that they spend their childhood witnessing an unhappy and unhealthy relationship. As parents, Mamah and Edwin, should have made every effort to make the relationship work. But if they tried, and it still didn't work, everyone is happier separate, no matter how hard the initial shock of separation is for the children. So in that respect, she was absolutely in the right.
What I don't understand is how Mamah could leave her children behind FOR 2 YEARS while she gallivanted off to Europe to hang out with her lover and find her calling. Both are very important things, things that she had to do to regain her sense of self. But to do them at the expense of her relationship with her children...well, it made me think less of her. Yes, she had to be with Frank, who was overseas. Yet she could have stayed with him there and come back periodically. Yes, she had to find herself, and do her important work in the world - work that would have been hard to do with small children around - but she could have done it from a location closer to her children. It would make it harder, yes, as Europe was the epicentre of the new thinking, but as a parent - wasn't she obliged to stay? Wasn't she??
It's such a hard question, one I ask myself constantly. All people, mothers being no exception, need personal fulfillment. They can't just narrow their lives up to a point where they are "mom" and nobody else. It's a recipe for future disaster. As one of the characters in the book, Else, said "I was married to a doctor...I had fine china. Lovely rugs on the floor... One day, I woke up and thought, What have you done with your gifts? You've traded them for furniture." (pg 191) That quote really chilled me, because you can hear how easy it is to lose yourself in motherhood and forget selfhood.
But I still think that if you make the choice to have children - and nobody put a gun to Mamah's head, although in the early 1900's, I'm sure it wasn't really a choice - then you must necessarily be there for the children YOU CHOSE to have. They have a right to a mother, and you have an obligation to be there. She chose to further herself at the expense of her children. It's funny too, because she criticized her idol, feminist Ellen Key, for contradicting her own ideas and saying just that.
I'm just torn apart trying to figure out just exactly what I think of Mamah. I like her. I want to support her breaking the mold, going after her dreams, and seeking her happiness. I simply can't forgive her leaving her children to do so. Desertion is a cold word. An unforgivable word, where children are concerned. After a week of thinking about it, I still don't know whether or not I agree with the path she chose. (I know I don't have to. It's just a book. But I say a book is not worth reading if you're not invested in it. I like to put myself in the heroine's position and figure out a problem from her perspective.)
What do you think? Are you even following my muddled thought process...?