fiction favorites…The Mousewife

The Mousewife, by Rumer Godden, illustrated by William Pène du Bois

Wherever there is an old house with wooden floors and beams and rafters and wooden stairs and wainscots and skirting boards and larders, there are mice.  They creep out on the carpets for crumbs, they whisk in and out of their holes, they run in the wainscot and between the ceiling and the floors.  There are no signposts because they know the way, and no milestones because no one is there to see how they run…
[O]nce there was a little mousewife who was different from the rest.
 She looked the same; she had the same ears and prick nose and whiskers and dewdrop eyes; the same little bones and grey fur; the same skinny paws and long skinny tail.
She did all the things a mousewife does:  she made a nest for the mouse babies she hoped to have one day; she collected crumbs of food for her husband and herself…
The house where these mice lived belonged to a spinster lady called Miss Barbara Wilkinson.  The mice thought the house was the whole world.  The garden and the wood that lay around it were as far away to them as the stars are to you, but the mousewife used sometimes to creep up on the window sill and press her whiskers close against the pane. 

What is it that is a little different about this dear mousewife?  Ah,  that becomes apparent as this short, tender tale winds along.   This little mousewife has the soul of an artist, I think.  She gazes at snowdrops and autumn leaves and the white tracings of snow on bare branches and longs to see, to know, to experience more of this foreign world.  While her husband and the other mice have nothing but cheese and crumbs on their minds, our mousewife treasures more far-off thoughts.  And, happily, she is given just a glimpse of that world, through her most unlikely acquaintance with a dove.

Rumer Godden is an enchanting writer who based this story on one written by Dorothy Wordsworth for her brother William, the poet; the story was found in Dorothy’s journal.  It is quite short, but has been republished by The New York Review Children’s Collection in a gorgeous little hardcover book with exquisite pencil drawings by du Bois.  My daughters, who were adept readers quite early, would have loved reading this quiet story when they were just 6 or 7 years old.    I think it’s a gem for that age group.

Here’s an Amazon link:  The Mousewife