Lynn Gardner: The Squirrel-Cage by Dorothy Canfield Fisher


3.15.2011

The Squirrel-Cage by Dorothy Canfield Fisher

"Don't you remember what Emerson says -- Melton's always quoting it -- 'Most of our expense is for conformity to men's ideas? It's for cake that the average man runs debt.' He must have everything that anyone else has, whether he wants it or not. A house ever so much bigger finer than he needs, with ever so many more things it than belong there. He must keep his wife idle and card-playing because other men's wives are. He must have his children do what everyone else's children do, whether it's bad for their characters or not. Ah! the children! That's the worst of it all! To bring them up so that these complications will be essentials of life to them! To teach them that health and peace of mind are not too high a price for a woman to pay for what is called social distinction, and that a man must -- if he can get it in no other way -- pay his self respect and the life of his individuality for what is called success --"

He broke off to say gloomily: "The devil of it is that we don't decide anything. We just slide along thinking of something else. If people would only give, just once in their lives, the same amount of serious reflection to what they want to get out of life that they give to the question of what they want to get out of a two weeks' vacation, there aren't many folks -- yes, even here in Endbury that seems so harmless to you because it's so familiar -- who wouldn't be horrified at the aimless procession of their busy days and the trivial false standards they subscribe to with their blood and sweat."

From The Squirrel-Cage by Dorothy Canfield Fisher
I've slowly been reading my way through Dorothy Canfield Fisher's novels this winter. A committed educational reformer and social activist, Canfield Fisher wrote with a deep, clear morality I find very appealing. Indeed, I find her novels to be so beautifully crafted and thought-provoking that I cannot believe they are not more widely read!

If you're interested in reading her novels, the young adult novel Understood Betsy is an excellent place to start. I also strongly recommend the coming-of-age novel The Bent Twig. While it's quite a lot longer and deals with darker topics, there's no doubting Betsy and Sylvia are sisters of a kind.

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