Fruitful: A Real Mother in the Modern World


A finely crafted and unique pro-feminist/pro-family position that calls for productive dialogue on quality childcare, Fruitful offers a personal and profound healing message for every woman torn between her own ambitions and her family's needs.
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A finely crafted and unique pro-feminist/pro-family position that calls for productive dialogue on quality childcare, Fruitful offers a personal and profound healing message for every woman torn between her own ambitions and her family's needs.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780140266726
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA)
  • Publication date: 10/1/1997
  • Edition description: REPRINT
  • Pages: 272
  • Product dimensions: 4.92 (w) x 7.72 (h) x 0.51 (d)

Reading Group Guide


A young woman, born and raised in 1950's America, dreams of building a life with words, of becoming a writer. Giving in to the cultural expectations of her time, she marries another writer and begins a family, trying to realize her artistic dreams through marriage.


Just as the light of the early feminist movement breaks bright over the horizon, her alcoholic husband leaves her. For this woman, now a single mother and an aspiring writer, feminism's message of a woman's strength and independence resonates deeply encouraging her to follow her dreams. But this is not where her story ends. The woman is happy to be able to pursue a career as a writer, but she is far more fulfilled by her life as a mother. Trapped in a paradox, she must part ways with other feminists, who label her unambitious-unfeminist-because she makes her children a priority. Scorned by mainstream society for her literary aspirations, shunned by feminists for devoting herself to her family, this woman must face the road ahead alone. So reads the story of Anne Roiphe's life-but it could be the story of any one of countless women who have felt left out of the women's movement for wanting to be wives and mothers. Now Roiphe finally gives voice to these longings and conflicting desires.

Fruitful-nominated for a National Book Award- looks at motherhood in all its profound complexity, with language that is both forceful and poetic. Roiphe tells the intimate, compelling story of raising her children and stepchildren in the gray area between the cult of motherhood and radical feminism. With heartbreaking candor, she details the difficult adaptations and painful rebellions that can haunt a parent's conscience. Filled with fierce pride in her family's accomplishments, Roiphe also shares her disappointments and worries, bravely discussing her eldest daughter's drug addiction and infection with HIV.

At the same time, Fruitful offers an intelligent examination of the limitations of contemporary feminism. Roiphe understands the reluctance that many women feel in identifying themselves as feminists-strong, independent, women who say, "I'm not a feminist, but..."

Unafraid to enter deeply into the many contradictory issues feminism raises, Roiphe freely admits her own ambivalence and confusion; yet, she also offers concrete, imaginative ideas about how to get past rage and finger-pointing in order to create a society that honors and encourages whatever choices women may make about their lives, particularly the choice to raise strong and secure children.

Frank, informative, intimate, and filled with wit, Fruitful offers a hopeful message-without slogans or easy answers-for every woman who has felt torn between her own ambitions and the needs of her family.


Anne Roiphe is the author of seven novels, including the acclaimed Up the Sandbox and Lovingkindness. Her articles and reviews have appeared in Vogue, Redbook, Glamour, Working Woman, Family Circle and elsewhere, and she writes a biweekly column for the New York Observer. She lives with her husband, Dr. Herman Roiphe, in New York City, where she raised her children.

A conversation with Anne Roiphe

Q: What kind of mother do you, or did you aspire to be?

A:Like everyone else I wanted to be nearly perfect. I wanted my children to be secure in my love, confident of themselves, adventurous, smart, creative, becoming loving and contributing human beings. I thought that I was responsible for everything that they would be and believed and I still believe that the care of my children, body and soul, was the purpose and essence of my life. This despite having published my first novel at 30 and having worked as a writer ever since-work which involves me, stimulates me and drives me no small amount of crazy.

Of course I wasn't such a perfect mother and I did not have the kind of control over all the things that would happen to them that I had expected. Life with it's rough and tumble brought me to a less ambitious point where I am grateful for what well being they have and certain that I played a good and important part of their lives. But it wasn't as easy as I thought and I now believe that culture, the people in the home, the particular biology of each child was also important, sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worse. The prefeminist culture in which I was raised taught us that our earthly significance lay with our children. Feminist thinking changed that and emphasized our own right to economic success as well as worldly challenges of all kinds.

I am a feminist and I believe that women are more than mothers and wives and their individual selves, economic and intellectual must be accounted for. However, I am still foremost a mother, (ragged at the edges as I may be), I still believe that most women want as I do, time for their work, a balance of self and home, a see saw, a cacophony of pushes and pulls, but nevertheless if not exactly at the same time, most women want to be with their children without being deprived of a place for their own ambitions, enjoyments, strivings.

Q: What is the emotional cost of Motherhood?

A: Mothers experience guilt when things go wrong. Mothers experience great pain when a child is sick or not doing well. Mothers lose their freedom to go where they please and when they please for many years. Mothers fear their own death because it would harm their children. Mothers worry about threats from the outside world, cars, drugs, predators. They spend sleepless nights over bad teachers, bad friends, a child's stutter, a broken arm, a lost friend. So of course can fathers and as the world has made parenting a more shared responsibility I think that the emotional toll is not less but at least spread and shared. It is impossible to imagine what my inner landscape, nightmares and dreams, pleasures and anxieties would be like if I were not a mother. In some ways I would have been spared. In other ways I would have lost, flattened, limited my emotional life.

Q: What sacrifices did you make to be a mother? What are the rewards?

A: After my first novel was published I was asked to go to Hollywood to write the screenplay. I didn't go because my children were very young and my marriage new with step children just adjusting to the family. I could not tear apart the home although I would have enjoyed the experience. Too bad, one can't do everything at once. I may not have written as much as I would have if I did not have children. I stopped if one were sick. I stopped if I were worried about a child. I stopped to go to school appointments, dentists, birthday parties, etc. I would have traveled more if we had more funds for ourselves. All that is true but I wouldn't exchange my children for a trip to India (and I would really like to go to India). I wouldn't exchange them for another book.

Maybe it's the conversations we now have, maybe it's looking at them, each different. Their legs and arms, their hair, their eyes and noses, their fingers and toes still give me pleasure after all these years. Maybe it's the way they amuse me with stories of their friends, maybe it's the sound of a laugh or the way one touches her boyfriends arm. Maybe it's just what I remember about their childhoods. Maybe it's just that I know I am connected into the future, even after I die I will be here in their gestures, in their thoughts, in their lives. The love I feel for them fills me with warmth and sustains me when bad times come. This is true of us all, isn't it? Father's too.


"Passionate, lyrical, witty, insightful... It will evoke shudders of recognition from anyone who has cared for a child." - New York Times Book Review

"This book is so brave, so needed. Anne Roiphe digs beneath the paving stones of political rhetoric and unearths the wormy guilts and regrets we modern mothers all harbor." - Gail Sheehy, author of New Passages


  1. Fruitful utilizes several different kinds of writing: memoir, novel, meditation, manifesto, and poetry. How does this reflect and enhance Roiphe's attempt to engage the complexities of the many feminist issues she raises?
  2. By using herself as the central "character" of Fruitful, whose journey and development the reader follows, does Roiphe clearly depict the clash between ideology and reality? Does "reality," as Roiphe states, always win? If so, why? If not, why not? Discuss a similar experience in the struggle between ideals and daily realities from your own life.
  3. Does Fruitful arrive at a definition of feminism? If so, what is it? How do you define feminism for yourself? Do you identify yourself as a "feminist?" If so, why? If not, why not?
  4. One of the more controversial aspects of Fruitful is Roiphe's refusal to limit her discussion of feminism to the so-called "male sins" against women. Instead, she argues for equality for men in terms of child care, parenting, divorce, and what she refers to as "momminess." What do you think about her suggestions about treating men as potential lovers and fathers rather than, as some feminists do, as potential criminals? How would this change affect our current understanding of family life? Do you agree or disagree with Roiphe's ideas? What might you suggest to ease the war between the sexes?
  5. Roiphe examines, with poetic intensity, her desire for children, what she describes as her "baby hunger," while at the same time admitting the frustration and occasional boredom of being a parent. Have you had similar feelings and experiences? Can you describe them?
  6. By exploring the many meanings and metaphorical possibilities of the word Fruitful, Roiphe examines the idea of creativity in women's lives? Is motherhood, by its very nature, creative? How? Roiphe also looks at the tensions of being both an artist and a mother, even going so far as to say that she would "rather have a child than a book." Can a woman be both a good mother and a good artist? Can she be both at the same time? Why, or why not?


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