A writer who finds herself in the category explores its history and current state. We like our labels, that’s for sure. I don’t know why, but I suppose I get it. It’s like the wee signs that hang over the aperture to each aisle in the grocery store. Ah, THIS is where the cereal is (even though I have been going to that same damn Sobeys for 15 years.) There’s something comforting to not having to spend a moment thinking or exploring options if you are simply looking for whole grains. That said, when it comes to words on a page, I prefer a wider lens on the whole thing: “fiction”, “poetry”, “other stuff”. Etc. Allows me to sometimes find something outside my comfort zone. And the term “domestic fiction” is certainly outside my comfort zone.
The phrase “domestic fiction,” to me, brings to mind oval-shaped rag rugs catching embers and a cast iron skillet full of hash-browns and women in calico dresses setting the table. Basically, it is Little House on the Prairie. Why would my novel, about an itinerant bilingual mother and daughter who do not have a permanent home and zigzag across the Atlantic at a frenetic pace, the long and complicated legacy of the Spanish Civil War overshadowing their every move, be in such a category?
A bit of research shows my instincts about the label aren’t far off. Going back to the 19th century, I learn that “domestic fiction” is often synonymous with “women’s fiction” and “sentimental fiction.” There are a range of authors, from Harriet Beecher Stowe to Jane Austen, and conventional themes, including struggles with class, religion, and marriage. It is a fascinating genre, and some would argue it had a major role in bringing womens’ lives into literary and social discourse.
Two centuries later, I ask, what I am doing in this category?