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Indeed, the labor of keeping house is labor in its most naked state, for labor is toil that never finishes, toil that has to be begun again the moment it is completed, toil that is destroyed and consumed by the life process.

Mary McCarthy (1912-1989) American author, critic, political activist
“The Vita Activa,” The New Yorker (1958-10)

A review of Hanna Arendt, The Human Condition (1958). Collected in On the Contrary: Articles of Belief, 1946–1961, Part 1 (1961).
Added on 1-Jul-24 | Last updated 1-Jul-24
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A tradition has now for long been established that cooking and cleaning are woman’s work. As these occupations are among the most tiresome which humanity has to endure, this tradition is very unfortunate for women. But there it is; and the problem is how to get what is needful done as rapidly as possible, so that one can go and do something else, more lucrative, interesting, or amusing.

The general rule is that there must be something to eat at stated intervals, and the house or the flat must be about as clean as the houses and flats of one’s acquaintances. It sounds simple, but actually to secure both these results will often be found to take the entire time. All the time that there is. And that is so tragically little. None left over for reading, writing, walking, sitting in woods, playing games, making love, merely existing without effort. And ever at your back you hear Time’s winged chariot hurrying near…and so the grave yawns, and at the end you will be able to say, not “I have warmed both hands before the fire of life,” but “I have kept house.”

The only solution of this problem which I can suggest — and I almost hesitate to do in these pages — is, Do not keep house. Let the house, or flat, go unkept. Let it go to the devil, and see what happens when it has gone there. At the worst, a house unkempt cannot be so distressing as a life unlived.

Rose Macaulay
Rose Macaulay (1881-1958) English writer
“Some Problems of a Woman’s Life,” Good Housekeeping (Aug 1923)
Added on 15-Sep-21 | Last updated 15-Sep-21
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