Rachel's Reviews > The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate

The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly
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Aug 17, 2009

it was ok

First, let me try to be fair and share things I liked. I liked Calpurnia--her spunk,loyalty and ambition to do "great things". I liked her curiosity about the world and her courage to forge a relationship with her grandfather. In and of itself, I loved that relationship; to be "in" with a grandparent the way she "became" would be a boon and blessing to any child. However, though I thought her grandfather was likable and validated Calpurnia in important ways, his character seems to have devolved into a selfish, self absorbed presence that concerns himself only with matters that directly affect him. I say devolved because we catch glimpses of a full and rich earlier life, but by the time we meet him, he seems to have distanced everyone around him, taking --never giving, and the only reason he builds such an endearing relationship with Calpurnia is because she ventures into his world and on his terms; he shuts out everyone else who is unwilling to make that journey. In the end I wanted him to help her transition, to help her see that all of the bright lights of learning and discovery and important things can be had in every avenue of life if we choose to see it. Through his encouragement and because of their relationship, she could have had that vision, but he was never willing to venture outside of his world long enough to teach her anything that broad. I got the sense that her relationship with her grandfather would be fleeting and as her experiences diverged from his, Calpurnia would be shut out again as well.

My second irritation was minor and a bit unfair, because the title of the book states clearly it's subject matter and I chose to pick it up, but I found the chapter headings to be a little irritating and manipulated, like the author was trying to push her Darwinian views a little too forcefully down one's throat.

Lastly, and this would stop me from recommending the book to any of the young girls of my acquaintance, for who it is supposedly intended. The role of wife, mother and homemaker is disturbingly undermined and devalued. The following quotes summarize the tone of the book.

“My mother’s life was a never-ending round of maintenance. Not one single thing did she ever achieve but that it had to be done all over again, one day or one week or one season later. Oh, the monotony."

“...I was exactly like other girls. I was expected to hand over my life to a house, a husband, children. ...My life was forfeit. Why hadn’t I seen it? I was trapped. A coyote with her paw in the trap.”

”..I leaned against the wall and stood there, empty, for a long time. Empty of everything. I was only a practical vessel of helpful service, waiting to be filled up with recipes and knitting patterns.”

I finished the book, waiting for the moment when someone would help Calpurnia dispel the nightmarish destiny she was conjuring in her mind and help her to know that though every homemaker will feel the "never-ending round of maintenance", and on a bad day feel like "only a practical vessel of helpful service" that there are so many other beautiful days in between. That being a wife and mother brings the great joys of life. That discovery and learning and ambition are still there for the taking. But, those ideas never emerged and she... and we,
were left looking ahead to a life filled with headaches and tonic, and frippery.

A well written story, just not my kind of themes.
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Reading Progress

August 17, 2009 – Shelved
August 11, 2010 – Started Reading
September 3, 2010 – Finished Reading

Comments (showing 1-19 of 19) (19 new)

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message 1: by Mylisa (new) - added it

Mylisa Larsen Just read this. What did you think of it?

Rachel Mylisa wrote: "Just read this. What did you think of it?"

Haven't read it, it was on a "clean reads" list, so I put it on my "to read" list. Is it any good?

message 3: by Mylisa (new) - added it

Mylisa Larsen Rachel wrote: "Mylisa wrote: "Just read this. What did you think of it?"

Haven't read it, it was on a "clean reads" list, so I put it on my "to read" list. Is it any good?"

Definitely clean. Some good writing. To me, it had the faint smell of a grownup who thinks they are writing for children but is really writing for herself. I have a hard time forgiving that but that is a peeve that is not shared by everyone.

message 4: by Liz (new) - rated it 2 stars

Liz Thanks for this review. With regard to the general tone surrounding the roles of wife and mother, I feel the same way.

Sandra Greene This was a perfect review. Exactly how I felt as well. Thank you for taking the time to write it.

Joan What a great and well thought out review, Rachel. We have to remember that 21st Century girls and women have many options open to them. We can freely choose which suits us best. Calpurnia's world did not allow for many options. Thanks for your great comments and food for thought.

Tricia Hi Rachel, I wanted to let you know that I took the liberty of copying your review and pasting it into my review of this book. Your words matched so perfectly how I felt about this book.
I don't know how to link your review, and said so in my review. If you would like me to remove it, please let me know, and I will.
Thanks for postings such a well written and thought out review.

Emily I disagree. She was more upset because the choice was made for her and she had no liberty to choose for herself. I didnt get the impression that it was in any way negative towards marriage and motherhood.

Pandora Saw your review. I like that backed up your statements with quotes. You also helped remember other points I had problems with.

Rachel This is a well backed up statement of why you didn't like the book, but I don't think you make a strong argument for whether it is a good book for young women to read. Perhaps young women should be encouraged to read books that provoke questions about engaging with isolated or self-absorbed people, about how war affects generations, about the history of religion and science conflicting, about the complexity of motherhood and marriage, and perceptions of femininity. There are many books that could be read parallel to Calpurnia to encourage thoughtful consideration of these valuable topics and more. I think it's important to remember, as well, that characters may not be a mouthpiece for their author's opinions. This story tells of a time of transition in Calpurnia's family and her development. We don't get to see her long for marriage or develop a passion for childbearing. Perhaps she does, or perhaps, like many young women, she doesn't. Calpurnia's grandfather reminds me much of Jane Austen's Mr. Bennett: someone who is likable, but who has many flaws. It would be a shame to strike Pride and Prejudice from reading lists merely because Austen included Mr. Bennett in the story, or because her authorial voice included many sardonic observations about marriage and motherhood.

Amanda Kimball I think if we look at this book, from the perspective of an eleven year old child, we can discount the fact that it is "putting-down" the mother figure. If you think back to childhood, when most children are interested in playing and innocent to the real-world, any child would feel as though a mother's job is "boring" because they have not yet acquired the knowledge and respect for what a mother's job or purpose is. If this was the intention of the author, writing from a child's perspective, I think she has captured the true feelings that some children have. Especially, a strong and ahead of her time child like Calpurnia, who is interested in science and not household chores or duties.

message 12: by Emily (new)

Emily Ventura Thank you for your candid review. I understand why everyone may not agree with your reasons to dislike the book. I, for one, have not read it and bought it second hand for my young daughter who reads at a much higher than her age level.
While it may be an appropriate book for older girls who are ready to process perceptions of femininity, I agree with your point of view and she will be skipping this one. Thank you.

message 13: by Laura (new)

Laura The portrayal of Calpurnia's mother's life was very accurate for 1899. You should not placed present day ideas and themes into the book. Especially in Calpurnia's time, women had very limited choices (if they had any at all).

Rachel Laura wrote: "The portrayal of Calpurnia's mother's life was very accurate for 1899. You should not placed present day ideas and themes into the book. Especially in Calpurnia's time, women had very limited cho..."

My grudge was not against authenticity. The feeling of entrapment most assuredly did affect many women of the time period,who didn't feel they had a choice, but that same perspective, even with the plethora of choice available today, still afflicts some women.

My grievance derives from the portrayal that the circumstances of the period were the root of the resentful attitudes towards domesticity. I would just like young girls, of any generation, to understand that positivity is a choice--an attitude--not a conditional premise. I would simply choose other literary mentors, of the same time period, of which there are many, in which the attitudes of women toward their domestic roles was cherished, fulfilling and respected. Learning to choose happiness, will embolden young women, in any age, no matter what role they choose, for they will eventually come to realize that any career, any accomplishment that is ultimately fulfilling or joyful is accompanied by a certain amount of monotony, repetition and service.

message 15: by Laronnda (new)

Laronnda I think some of you are overlooking Calpurnia's dislike of housewifery and motherhood and taking her sentiments as a personal attack. The problem, as I understand it, is choice. For those of you who disagree with Calpurnia's opinions on being a housewife or mom just imagine if you were forced by a parent or society into anything you didn't want to do? Would you want someone to minimize your feelings or to argue with you that you weren't viewing things properly? Are we allowed our perspectives? If you want to be a housewife and mom then Calpurnia's issues aren't your issues, but you must remember that not everyone shares that opinion. For that reason, I think it's an excellent book to start a discussion on the right to be or have a different opinion and not to be slighted because of it. I'm glad no one came along to show her the upside, not because I personally agree with her sentiments, but because I agree with people having the right of choice- especially little or younger girls who are still developing.

Lauren Wilde I agree with you totally.

message 17: by Stef (new) - rated it 5 stars

Stef Rozitis Agreed Laconnda! Rachel I don;t think the author is necessarily advocating for Darwin's ideas. I agree Granddaddy is not wholly likeable but isn;t that partly the point? And no the book would be entirely pointless if she finally succumbs to the lie that every woman is necessarily fulfilled by limiting herself to nothing other than the carrier of the man's interests and care of children. "Homemaker" (odious term for it) these days can sometimes be rich and varied but in those days it really was just tedium, routine, stress and drudgery (hence the alcoholism of Mother). Anyone who feels "privileged" the be a homemaker in a house full of electrical gadgets and time to pursue their own interests at any given time should not judge the past by the present. Also anyone who thinks every women could be satisfied with wifehood has got rocks in their head!!! I was pressured into wifehood and it was the WORST THING EVER for me. I mean good luck to you if that is honestly what you want but no, it would not have been a happy ending for Calpurnia or even most women

Nicole I wonder how Jane Addams dealt with this,,,oh, wait...

message 19: by Cathleen (new)

Cathleen thank you for this review a

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