Writing about housewives


How do I write about housewives?

It has been my consistent belief that there is a story, nay, many stories, in every individual life. It’s just a matter of finding them. Sometimes it means sitting someone down, making this person trust you, and fishing.

She trusts you because your interest in her is genuine and is reflected in your face and body language: “Tell me more, please.”

It’s not so much a story around every corner; I believe there’s a story in every person.

But–how do I write about a housewife? I mean how do I write a Globe and Mail obituary about a woman often viewed as lurking in the shadow of her husband’s notoriety? I must coax her out. But she is no longer alive.

It’s Brenda Davies I’m now referring to. She is my current obsession. She was married to Canadian literary giant Robertson Davies for a fistful of fat decades. During his years as Founding Master of Massey College, at the University of Toronto, she stitched altar clothes and kneeling runners for the chapel there.

She entertained visiting scholars and dignitaries like the sculptor Henry Moore.

She read Canadian authors for him because he didn’t want to read them himself. They might cramp his style. Margaret Laurence was her favourite.

She even shushed women so they wouldn’t disturb him while he wrote–women students protesting in front of the college back in the 1960s because they were excluded from membership in the all-male bastion.

Oh, but there was so much more to her.

Before Rob whisked her into holy matrimonial, back in 1940 when she was 23 years old, Brenda worked as stage director of London’s Old Vic Theatre among the likes of Laurence Oliver, Tyrone Power, and Vivienne Leigh (that was a year after Leigh hammered down Scarlet O’Hara.)

Nearly 15 years later, Tyrone Guthrie offered her the job stage managing the Stratford Festival in Ontario. She turned it down. She was a housewife who took on the august job of stage-managing RD so that he could write the books we love. (She even came up with the title for Fifth Business.)

One more thing: Brenda was dyslexic.

“We pool our resources,” said the great man once upon a time.  “Mrs. Davies can drive a car and I can spell.”

If you get a chance to read my version of Mrs. Davies’ life, you’ll see that she managed to do a lot more important things — than spell.



About Nor

I'm a creative non-fiction writer, with a special interest in memoirs and obituaries--life stories, local histories with flesh & blood anecdotal details. I'm also beginning to create podcasts of people's stories and expanding their audiences. I'm a diarist, an editor, and a political activist. I live in Toronto, Ontario, Canada and spend days tapping keys or staining my fingers in ink.
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