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inaccurate fingers; desire so dreary

a perverse fancy for twilight, for puttering about with straining eyes and inaccurate fingers in the dusk
silently puttering about after her, drove Kate almost to despair
eagerly, clumsily puttering about in his desire

— these three instances, in Little Ships, A Novel by Kathleen Norris (1925) : link
their fuller contexts (and links to hathitrust scan) below —

  1. Her grandmother was in the kitchen, crooning like an old sorceress over the preparation of coffee and eggs for Harry. Harry had a night-watchman’s job at the moment, and consequently slept all afternoon. Mrs. Walsh, and Maggie too, had a perverse fancy for twilight, for puttering about with straining eyes and inaccurate fingers in the dusk, and Kate’s first move to-night, as usually, was to flash on the lights.
    p 293 : link
  2. Two or three days of Lizzie, silently puttering about after her, drove Kate almost to despair. Lizzie made herself useful, and was sweet, if silent and timid, with the children. Her bony, cool hands were always ready to help Kate with bed-making, with raking, with little meals, or little bathing-suits.
          But she was so dreary...
    p 381 : link

    this from chapter 27, in which it comes out that Lizzie hadn’t known what marriage involved — sexually — had taken a vow, finds intimacy distasteful, prefers to sleep separately from her husband. —

          “I tell you I didn’t know anything, and it’s my affair and Martin’s anyway, Kate!” Lizzie said, goaded into anger. “Mama was never one to talk about marriage and babies and all that,” she continued, in a slightly more conciliatory and faintly apologetic tone. “And there was no one else I could talk to. For all I knew, babies came ——” She paused. “For all I knew, men ——” she began again and paused again.
          Kate knew that the indication of utter and virgin ignorance was true. Lizzie had probably known as much of marriage, upon her wedding day, as upon the day of her birth. Such subjects were utterly unknown, in the clean, pious, gentle circle of her early years. The aged mother would have been morally, mentally, yes, and even physically unable to mention them to her daughter. Books touching upon them, conversation through which they might become familiar, were abhorrent to purity like this.
          Lizzie had taught primary grades all her life. But there was nothing in that well-thumbed little curriculum of greatest common divisor and Spencerian loops to open her eyes. She had very probably come to Mart, Kate reflected, believing vaguely that the laws of calm logic and dispassionate decision would regulate her married as her single life.
          “Oh, yes, I told him, the day of Mama’s funeral, when he wanted to marry me right off,” Lizzie answered. And Kate detected a pathetic note of relief in her voice, as if whe were glad to be speaking, even of the unspeakable, at last. “I told him I’d taken a vow, when I was confirmed,” she pursued, “that married or single, I’d preserve— I’d do what I told you—”
          “How old were you when you were confirmed?”
          “I was twelve.”
          “Yes, and how much did you know about life?”
          “Well, nothing, I suppose,” Lizzie conceded. “But I read about plenty of the Saints that did that.”
          “You mean married, and then lived a single life?” “Well, yes,” said Lizzie, and fell into a mild silence, a silence that had something almost triumphant in it, as if she had proved her point. “My own saint did that,” she added, contentedly.
          “Yes, but after she’d had four children!”
          “Well, that wouldn’t make any difference,” Lizzie said, with a look of surprise.
          “But, Lizzie, what about your marriage vow? The vow of an ignorant little girl of twelve amounts to nothing, you weren’t even legally of age then! But the vow of a woman, who solemnly swears——”
          “But Martin understood the whole of it, and agreed, beside my mother’s coffin, that he’d let me have the say of it!” the other woman argued, readily.
          “A lot he knew about it!” Kate muttered, confirmed by this remark in an old belief that Martin’s youth had been as strangely innocent and protected as that of his wife, and convinced that his utter ignorance of the ways of woman was at least partly accountable for the whole state of affairs.
          There was a look of serene and stubborn fanaticism in Lizzie’s eye; Kate knew that look...
    pp 383-384 : link

  3.       But now Rob had started for Los Angeles to attend a conference, and Ellen said that somehow she had felt homesick for Mama. So here they all were, and Mollie was ecstatically happy padding about making them welcome...
          “Well, then, I’m going to telephone John, and we’ll stay, too,” Kate stated, firmly, and felt a little twinge of heartache at beholding her uncle’s look of deep satisfaction.
          “Do that, Kate. That’s what the big place is for!” said Peter, eagerly, clumsily puttering about in his desire to prove how welcome they were.
          Mollie sent a careful message to the kitchen...
    p 412 : link


  1. Little Ships is a story of an Irish — Irish Catholic — family “in trouble.”

    See Ann C. Rose, Beloved Strangers: Interfaith Families in Nineteenth-century America (2001) : link (snippets and longer passages)

  2. The novel was serialized in at least one Catholic newspaper. A portion of chapter 30 (containing the long extract above, re: absence of conjugal relations) ran in The Catholic Transcript (Hartford, Connecticut; Thursday, April 25, 1929) : 8 : link
    for all mentions of Little Ships therein, see search results : link
  3. The title of the novel comes from the song that concludes it —
    “So all the little ships come sailing home across the sea,
    Their voyage safely ended, their way they’ve wended
          Home where they would be...”
    p441 : link
  4. Kathleen Norris (1880-1966)

    a much-read and published novelist and journalist of her time. wikipedia : link
    She is treated at some length in the second edition of Grant Overton, his The Women Who Make Our Novels (1928) : 227-242 : link

    See also her Noon : An Autobiographical Sketch (1925) : link

  5. Kathleen Norris has — inexplicably — not appeared earlier in this project: the word “puttering” appears in several of her works.

17 January 2023