Review by

The Mousewife

Exquisite tale of liberation

Once upon a time of traditional gender roles, there was a little mouse who lived with her husband in a big old house full of mouse-friendly nooks and crannies. In this beautiful neglected classic, The Mousewife by Rumer Godden, we meet the tiny homemaker as she bustles around collecting crumbs of food and creating a snuggly nest for the babies she hopes to have one day. She believes her house to be ‘the whole world,’ and yet yearns for something more. It will take the arrival of a mournful caged turtledove to open her mind to the wonders beyond the front door.It’s not all chores and housework however, our little mousewife knows how to have fun too. She’s been known to stay up past midnight, and once bit the tops off a whole bowl of crocuses. Despite looking like a very average mouse, inside she doesn’t feel like that at all. In fact, on days when she’s feeling particularly daring, the mousewife climbs up onto the windowsill and watches the changing seasons in the garden. She believes there must be something more to life, a fact that irritates her husband.

‘I think about cheese,’ said her husband, ‘Why don’t you think about cheese?’.

Frankly, that tells you everything you need to know about Mr Mouse.

The day everything changes is the day the mousewife discovers a gilt cage in the sitting room; contained within it is a captive dove whose heart is breaking. He has stories to tell of trees and mountains, clouds, flight and freedom.

From one fettered soul to another, they become friends and the mousewife is inspired to act.

Godden’s wonderful tale of liberation doesn’t quite go where you imagine. Gentle, philosophical, and tinged with melancholy, as the greatest children’s books often are, it’s derived from a story by Dorothy Wordsworth, with some glorious illustrations by William Pène du Bois.

One to cherish.

If you like this, see The Doll’s House by Rumer Godden.

The Mousewife  by Rumer Godden is published by NYRB Children’s, 56 pages.

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