The Egg and I

The Egg and I

Book - 1945
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Publisher: New York : Lippincott, 1945
Characteristics: 287 p. ; 21 cm

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m
maiki69
Nov 20, 2019

"Such duty as the subject owes the prince, even such a woman oweth to her husband."
- Shakespeare

With that anti-feminist quote, Betty MacDonald begins her tale of taming the wild frontier of Washington's majestic Olympic Peninsula. Set in the 1930's on a chicken farm the author carved out of the woods with her husband Bob, THE EGG AND I (Lippincott) is a testament to self-reliance. A couple of city slickers themselves, they approached their enterprise with the daring spirit of early explorers. They were, after all, twentieth century nation builders.

MacDonald is a fabulous storyteller, giving personalities to inanimate objects, no doubt an attempt to assuage the loneliness of having only Bob to look at day in and day out. She writes with great detail of the woodburning stove used for cooking, cleaning, heating - you name it - complaining about its temperamental ways, but all the while conveying the impression she has a deep-seeded fondness for Stove and wouldn't be without it. Life was tough for pioneering chicken farmers. No running water, no electricity, not much of anything for company other than Bob, except for chickens, the weather and the constant present mountains which she describes beautifully upon their first encounter:

". . . Bob and I spent the long ferry ride walking the decks and admiring the deep blue waters of Puget Sound, the cerulean sky, densely wooded dark-green islands which floated serenely here and there, and the great range of Olympic Mountains obligingly visible in all of their snowy magnificence. These Olympics have none of the soft curves and girlish plumpness of Eastern Mountains. They are goddesses, full-breasted, broad-hipped, towering and untouchable. They are also complacent in the knowledge that they look just as mountains should."

After some time, she pays a visit to her nearest neighbors, a mere four miles away. Maw and Paw Kettle are a picture of laziness. They live by the motto: A job worth doing is a job worth talking someone else into doing for you. Paw speaks with a slow, laborsome lisp, while Maw begins every sentence with "Key-rist!" Their farm is a chaotic mess of rusty bed springs, car parts and anything else that oxidizes under the weather. At last count they had fifteen kids, and nary a hand to help poor Paw with the chores. MacDonald describes them so vividly (and lovingly) you can't help but like them, lazy or not. They were a hit with MacDonald's readers, so much so they became a Hollywood franchise (the Maw and Paw Kettle films). Her other neighbors, the Hicks, though the opposite of the Kettles in tidiness, get no better treatment at the hands of the author. She describes Mr. Hicks as "a large ruddy dullard, [who] walked gingerly through life, being careful not to get dirt on anything or in any way to irritate Mrs. Hicks, whom he regarded as a cross between Mary Magdalene and the County Agent." Still, within the story MacDonald seems to really love her pioneering women friends for reasons other than mutual survival.

If MacDonald's descriptions of her neighbors are endearing, her descriptions of the native locals are anything but. By her account Indians are filthy drunks, and she lacked any sympathy for them. Most of them, anyway. The number she didn't mind could be counted on one hand.

Though MacDonald opens with that regrettable quote from Shakespeare, her account of farm life is anything but anti-feminist. She served in the trenches right alongside Bob splitting shakes, falling trees, dissecting chickens, castrating pigs and whatever else needed to be done, and put it all down on paper, in her amused, satirical voice. As Maw Kettle might say, "Key-rist! You'd think they was buildin' a nashun!" And that doesn't happen sitting on your hands.

c
CabotMama
Jul 03, 2018

Well said by one commenter: I found her negative tone tiresome. I couldn't finish the book. I didn't see much humor - perhaps because her style of writing seems like one complaint after another. I've read other books/memoirs about great hardships that manage to write without such a negative spirit. Poor Ms. McDonald....she has no love or tenderness for anyone in the book. Not even her daughter, much less her husband.

a
aafleming
Jul 23, 2017

Wow, just wow!! I am amazed by some of the comments here from people who apparently know nothing about history. This book was written in the 1940s. They did not have political correctness then. If you met members of another race or culture and didn't like them, you were free to say so. I'm so sorry if this upsets you. Perhaps you could initiate a movement to rewrite all of literature from the beginning of time so that it is politically correct for 2017, if that would make you feel better.

I would also like to point out that Betty MacDonald was in fact sued by several people who claimed they were portrayed in the this book, and she WON the lawsuit.

All of that said, I grew up reading Betty MacDonald's books, loved them, and still do. All of them take place in Washington State. "The Egg and I" was her first and most well known best-seller. It is a hilarious although highly fictionalized account of her life on a chicken farm with her first husband, and she was indeed an early feminist in that, in HER time, it was not considered acceptable for women to express their dislike of the lives their husbands expected them to lead.

m
miaone
Feb 17, 2017

Not clean, or funny, or politically only incorrect, but racist, negative, and ugly. I read it as a 7th grader in the mid 1950's in southern Indiana and learned the phrase "son of a *itch" from it. My mother was appalled. I thought the characters were disgusting even then, especially the mother.

b
brigpa1
Feb 15, 2017

brigpa1 Feb 15, 2017
Although B MacD was not particularly likable as a character, she can be excused because she was just plain unhappy. She was miserable, but, like women of her generation, she had been indoctrinated to think that her husband's likes and dislikes, wishes and dreams were all that mattered. I would say that the suppression of women is the theme that screams out loud and clear. There was not one empowered woman anywhere, although we see the beginnings of this realization at the end.
This was a best seller for 2 yrs in the mid 1940s. Women were starting to identify the dissatisfaction with the role that was relegated to them but did not dare express themselves.

w
WendyLC
May 15, 2016

I found this incredibly offensive. Classist, self-absorbed, an unlikable writer. I read later that the neighbors she insulted won a lawsuit against her for defamation of character and thought, "good for them!"

h
howiecat
Oct 22, 2015

One of the great book about the Pacific NW. It tells about a naïve girl who lived in Seattle getting married and moving to a chicken farm near Port Angeles in the 1920's. Betty McDonald is unique in a class of writers. She makes me laugh so hard I have to put the book down. You want to know what it was like in the 1930', 40's in the Pacific Nw. Read Betty

j
janedough
Jul 24, 2015

I truly enjoyed this book; it was laugh-out-loud hilarious in spots. The racism is shocking, by today's standards to be sure, but the colorful depictions of her neighbors and the situations in which she finds herself counterbalance the negatives. Try to read her biography; it will add to your understanding of the author.

f
fritzieford
Jul 22, 2013

MacDonald, famous for her Mrs. Piggle Wiggle books for children, writes amusing memoirs about homesteading and chicken farming in the Pacific Northwest. Since the book was published in 1945, it does contain some references that we would consider politically incorrect, especially concerning American Indians. This was not bothersome, but the overall tone of the book was. Although some anecdotes are hilarious, I found her negative outlook to be tiresome.

mrsh600 Oct 16, 2012

Great book! Very refreshing to read a "clean" book, full of humor and great depiction of a city girl trying to make it on a chicken farm...much like Lisa from Green Acres! FYI a movie of it was made in the 1940's starring Claudette Colbert and Fred MacMurray...very funny.

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m
maiki69
Nov 20, 2019

In THE EGG AND I (Lippincott), Betty MacDonald shares her experience of farming on the Northwest frontier. City slickers, she and her husband (Bob) pull the trigger and take a chance on chickens - a subject neither know anything about - and fortunately she has the presence of mind to write about it. No running water, no electricity, not much of anything for company other than Bob, except for chickens, the weather and the constant present mountains.

After some time, she pays a visit to her nearest neighbors, a mere four miles away. Maw and Paw Kettle are a picture of laziness. They live by the motto: A job worth doing is a job worth talking someone else into doing for you. Paw speaks with a slow, laborsome lisp, while Maw begins every sentence with "Key-rist!" Their farm is a chaotic mess of rusty bed springs, car parts and anything else that oxidizes under the weather. At last count they had fifteen kids, and nary a hand to help poor Paw with the chores. MacDonald describes them so vividly (and lovingly) you can't help but like them, lazy or not. They were a hit with MacDonald's readers, so much so they became a Hollywood franchise (the Maw and Paw Kettle films). Her other neighbors, the Hicks, though the opposite of the Kettles in tidiness, get no better treatment at the hands of the author. She describes Mr. Hicks as "a large ruddy dullard, [who] walked gingerly through life, being careful not to get dirt on anything or in any way to irritate Mrs. Hicks, whom he regarded as a cross between Mary Magdalene and the County Agent." Still, within the story MacDonald seems to really love her pioneering women friends for reasons other than mutual survival.

If MacDonald's descriptions of her neighbors are endearing, her descriptions of the native locals are anything but.

". . . when [Indians] came to call I filled up Stove's reservoir with water and after they had left I scrubbed the house from top to bottom with Lysol. Birdie Hicks the Second, Bob called me. I didn't care. Little red brothers or not, I didn't like Indians, and the more I saw of them the more I thought what an excellent thing it was to take that beautiful country away from them. They had come a long way from Hiawatha."

Hmmmm. Chalk it up to the era in which it was written.

MacDonald assigns fictitious names to the local communities. Town (where one could shop), is the real life Victorian seaport of Port Townsend. Crossroads is actually Chimacum (why elect not to use a wonderful name like Chimacum?), and Docktown is Port Hadlock. To this day, there is a country lane not far from these places named The Egg and I Road, evidence of how big a phenomenon MacDonald's book was. In 1995 - the fiftieth anniversary of THE EGG AND I - I was invited by a friend to attend a reading of it at the Seattle Public Library. I went anticipating my friend and I and maybe one or two eccentric Chicken Lady types would make up the total in attendance. To my surprise the event was packed. It was a Betty MacDonaldpalooza. All week. You just had to know where to look.

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m
maiki69
Nov 20, 2019

These Olympics have none of the soft curves and girlish plumpness of Eastern Mountains. They are goddesses, full-breasted, broad-hipped, towering and untouchable. They are also complacent in the knowledge that they look just as mountains should."
- Betty MacDonald, THE EGG AND I

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