Born 7 October 1913, Brooklyn, New York
Daughter of Charles H. and Jeanette F. Searle Hall; married Eliot Janeway, 1938; children: two sons
The daughter of middle-class parents, Elizabeth Janeway attended Swarthmore College and graduated from Barnard College in 1935. She married a well-known economist and author and had two sons. The Janeways lived in New York City.
Janeway's first novel, The Walsh Girls (1943), is a psychological study of two sisters living in a New England town during the Depression. The younger, widow of a German intellectual killed at Dachau, experiences conflicting feelings about her new husband, a businessman, and about the institution of marriage. The elder, both prudish and independent, is committed to remaining single. The Walsh Girls is typical of Janeway's novels in its focus on a small group, often a family, whose members are struggling with a crisis or through a period of transition, their personal dilemmas and relationships intersecting with events in a carefully delineated social and historical milieu.
For instance, The Question of Gregory (1949), set partly in Washington, D.C., and New England, studies the effects of a young man's death in wartime upon his parents and their marriage. Leaving Home (1953, reissued 1987) follows two young sisters and a brother as they make their way into the world during the years 1933 to 1940. In The Third Choice (1959), an elderly and crippled woman, once a reigning beauty, and her niece, who is unable to substitute satisfaction in motherhood for satisfaction in marriage, struggle to salvage the past and come to terms with the present and future. And in Accident (1964), a complacent young man, his mother, and his self-made father are forced to reassess their lives by an accident involving the son and a friend, now paralyzed for life.
The strengths of Janeway's best novels—The Walsh Girls, The Question of Gregory, and The Third Choice—are subtle and lucid handling of psychology, clean-cut writing, and precise depiction of milieu. Her treatment of relationships among women is particularly noteworthy. Her works have sometimes been criticized, however, for lacking a unifying theme or point of view.
Unable to deal with some of the large social issues of the 1960s in the kind of fiction she writes, "in which theme is carried by character," Janeway turned to nonfiction in her best-known work, Man' s World, Woman's Place: A Study in Social Mythology (1971). The book, much praised for its clarity and undogmatic thoughtfulness, is based upon wide reading in history, philosophy, and the social sciences, as well as upon considerable personal experience. Janeway's focus is the assertion that a woman's place is in the home. She treats this from a contemporary perspective, showing it no longer describes the experience of most women in the U.S., and from a historical one, showing its association with the development of the nuclear family. The book's most important contribution, however, is its scrupulous and well-developed treatment of the ways in which this concept functions as a myth, a complex of feeling, fact, and fantasy that satisfies emotional and social needs despite—and because of—its historical inaccuracy.
Between Myth and Morning: Women Awakening (1974) is a collection of 13 essays, originally addressed to various audiences, on public and private aspects of women's lives. Janeway regards the women's movement as "irrevocable" because it is "rooted in reality, and reality has changed formidably." Partly because of this certitude, the book looks toward the future; it also suggests that the most significant aspect of women's past is the notions and limitations that have been applied to them, not the actions of women themselves. Individual essays are good, particularly on the difficulties both sexes experience in dealing with changes in the relationship between private life and work, but the book as a whole does not represent a new stage in Janeway's thinking. Her next work, however, Powers of the Weak (1981), studied power as a process of interaction and used women as a paradigm of all weak groups, dealing in an original way with issues that have engrossed Janeway since the beginning of her writing career.
Daisy Kenyon (1945). The Vikings (1951, 1981). The Early Days of Automobiles (1956). Angry Kate (1963). Ivanov Seven (1967). The Twentieth Century Woman (recording, 1983). Cross Sections from a Decade of Change (reissue, 1984). The Future of Difference (reissue, 1985). A Language for Women and What That Doesn't Mean (recording, 1985). Improper Behavior (1987). Making the Most of Aging (recording, 1990).
Harper's (Sept. 1971). MR (1972). Nation (6 Nov. 1943, 2 Aug. 1975). New Republic (12 Oct. 1974). NYHTB (21 Aug. 1941). NYT (29 Sept. 1974). NYTBR (17 Oct. 1943, 21 Aug. 1941, 3 May 1964, 20 June 1971). Saturday Review (31 Oct. 1953). TLS (8 April 1960). YR (1946).