Saturday, 13 August 2011

Don’ts for Wives – 1913

When I had to stay in hospital for a month last year, for high dose chemo and a stem cell transplant, I had to stay in virtual isolation. I was confined to the same room and although I could have visitors, they had to scrub up and wear a plastic apron. The treatment basically wiped out my immune system so I was very vulnerable to infection.

My friends did their best to think of things to keep me going – one of them was to have a bag full of 30 presents, a special, fun treat for every day.

Most of the time I was too ill to open or appreciate them, but it was a brilliant thought. I kept them all in a box and finally got round to going through them all the other day.

One of the presents (and I don’t know who it was from) was a little book, ‘Don’ts for Wives’ By Blanche Ebbutt, first published in 1913. In my quest to be a good wife, I thought I might find some useful hints and tips. There are 12 chapters – I’ve just read the first. It is brilliant. Much of it is very alien in terms of the women of today – very old fashioned. But there are a few nuggets that I think I would be wise to squirrel away.

The sad thing is that by 1914, most of the women who read the book when it was first published, were probably no longer wives – widowed by the first world war.

Anyway, enjoy:

Don’ts for Wives

1 – Personalities

Don’t think that there is any satisfactory substitute for love between husband and wife. Respect and esteem make a good foundation, but they won’t do alone.

Don’t be surprised, if you have married for money, or position, or fame, that you get only money, or position, or fame: love cannot be bought.

Don’t think that, because you have married for love, you can never know a moment’s unhappiness. Life is not a bed of roses, but love will help to extract the thorns.

Don’t expect life to be all sunshine. Besides, if there are no clouds, you will lose the opportunity of showing your husband what a good chum you can be.

Don’t look on the black side of the cloud. It is only a shadow cast by the silver lining.

Don’t lose heart when life seems hard. Look forward to the corner that you are bound to turn soon, and point it out to your husband.

Don’t moralise by way of winning back the love that seems to be waning. Make yourself extra charming and arrange delicious dinners which include all your husband’s favourite dishes.

Don’t put showy qualities before honesty and uprightness in your husband.

Don’t despise sound common sense because he doesn’t indulge in brilliant inspirations.

Don’t expect your husband to have all the feminine virtues as well as all the masculine ones. There would be nothing left for you if your other half were such a paragon.

Don’t be troubled because your husband is not an Adonis. Beauty is only skin deep and the cleverest men are rarely the handsomest, judged by ordinary standards.

Don’t worry about little faults in your husband which merely amuse you in your lover. If they were not important then, they are not important now. Besides, what about yours?

Don’t put on airs with your husband. If you can’t be natural with him, you shouldn’t have married him.

Don’t expect your husband to be an angel. You would get very tired of him if he were.

Don’t boast of your husband’s money or birth or cleverness to your friends. It is nearly as bad as boasting of your own.

Don’t tell all your women friends of your husband’s faults, but –

Don’t din his perfections into the ears of every woman you meet. Be satisfied to enjoy them.

Don’t interpret too literally the ‘obey’ of the Marriage Service. Your husband has no right to control your individuality.

Don’t be discontented and thing your husband not ‘manly’ because he happens to be short and thin, and not very strong. Manliness is not a purely physical quality.

Don’t take your husband at his own valuation, but at yours. He may be unduly modest, or just a little too cock-sure.

Don’t expect a man to see everything from a woman’s point of view. Try to put yourself in his place for a change. 

Don’t advise your husband on subjects of which you are, if anything, rather more ignorant than he.

Don’t try to model your husband on some other woman’s husband. Let him be himself and make the best of him.

Don’t let your husband feel that you are a ‘dear little woman’, but no good intellectually. If you find yourself getting stale, wake up your brain. Let there be nothing your husband can talk about that you will be unable to understand.

Don’t profess to care nothing about politics. Any man worth his salt does care, and many men learn to despise women as a whole because their wives take such an unintelligent attitude.

Don’t set your husband up on a pedestal and then cry when you find that he is only an ordinary man, after all.

Don’t be talked down by your husband when you want to express your views on any subject. You have a right to be heard.

Don’t be rude to people whom you dislike, or your husband will have cause to be ashamed of you. Politeness costs nothing.

Don’t expect to know your husband inside and out within a month of marriage. For a long time you will be making discoveries; file them for future reference.

Don’t vegetate as you grow older if you happen to live in the country. Some women are like cows, but there is really no need to stagnate. Keep both brain and body on the move.

Don’t consent to be treated as a child who cannot be expected to take any responsibility. Insist on hearing bad news as well as good. You did not marry your husband to be wrapped in cotton wool and put away in a glass case; you married him to be the partner of his joys and sorrows.

Don’t omit to pay your husband an occasional compliment. If he looks nice as he comes in dressed for the opera, tell him so. If he has been successful with his chickens, or his garden, or his photography, compliment him on his results. Don’t let him have to fall back on self-esteem all the while for want of a little well-directed praise.

Don’t pose as a helpless creature who can do nothing for herself; don’t drag your husband away from his office to see you across the street; don’t profess to be unable to understand Bradshaw, or to take a journey alone. It is true that the weak, clinging wife is often a favourite, but she is equally often a nuisance.

Don’t live on top of a spiritual mountain. Try to be
a creature
Not too bright and good
For human nature’s daily food”
As Wordsworth has it.

Don’t forget to wish your husband good-morning when he sets off to the office. He will feel the lack of your good-bye kiss all day.

Don’t brood; that way madness lies. Don’t hesitate if you catch yourself brooding, to take a day off, in the best way you can. Go out and gossip with your friend; get to a theatre where there is a play that will make you laugh; or try a concert or a cinema show – anything that will take you out of yourself. Take the brooding habit in time before it gets too strong a hold of you.

Don’t stop at that. Half the brooding and half the ill-humour in the world are due to foolish feeding. The woman who broods probably does not trouble about the meals when her husband is away - doesn’t have a decent repast at midday, but some bread and butter, or pastries and a cup of tea; or perhaps she eats too much meat. Three, or even two, meat meals a day tend to make the world look very black to the middle aged. The ever-flowing teapot is as bad.

So there you have it, so many words of good advice for a new bride.

Right, I’m off now to make dinner for my husband, have a conversation about economic policy, tell him how handsome he looks in his Brentford shirt and compliment him on the pointing he did in our yard the other night. But I won’t be eating too meat – I don’t want middle age to turn me into a cow!

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