Christmas is the time of year when all sorts of things get bought that we wouldn’t dream of buying in any other season: five types of paté, a 2kg selection of mixed nuts, comedy hats. And in Waterstone’s book shop my eyes were attracted to a pocket-sized, retro-styled volume.
Originally published in 1913, Blanche Ebbutt’s tract is straight-up advice to any woman planning on a long marriage. It had a partner title aimed at would-be husbands.
A good deal of this is anachronistic, in a way that we can now oh-so-knowingly patronise and smirk at its naiveté or inappropriateness. But much of it surprised me for its frankness and enduring relevance.
Disclaimer: the extracts I’ve quoted below do not necessarily reflect my own opinions!
I just think they’re interesting, quirky, insightful (especially the assumption that you will have servants…)
Don’t interpret too literally the ‘obey’ of the Marriage Service. Your husband has no right to control your individuality.
Don’t forget to wish your husband good morning whe he sets off to the office. He will feel the lack of your goodbye kiss all day.
Don’t check your husband’s high spirits. Let him sing at the top of his voice in the bathroom, and be thankful for a cheerful man about the house.
Don’t work yourself into a fever every time your husband omits to turn up at the expected time. He is in all probability neither run over by a motor-car, nor robbed and murdered on his way home, nor lying in a lonely land with a sprained ankle, nor in any other predicaments your imagination pictures. Probably he stopped at the bookstall to buy an evening paper, and so missed his train. So don’t greet him hysterically when he does arrive.
Don’t think it beneath you to put your husband’s slippers ready for him. On a cold evening, especially, it makes all the difference to his comfort if the soles are warmed through.
Don’t pile up money for your children. Give them the best education possible, and let them make their own way.
Don’t greet him at the door with a catalogue of dreadful crimes committed by servants during the day.
Don’t refuse to see your husband’s jokes. They may be pretty poor ones, but it won’t hurt you to smile at them.
Don’t object to your husband getting a motor-bicycle; merely insist that he shall buy a side-car for you at the same time.
Don’t take your husband on a laborious shopping expedition, and expect him to remain good-tempered throughout. If you want his advice on some special dress purchase, arrange to attend to that first, and then let him off. Men, as a rule, hate indiscriminate shopping.
Don’t keep the house so tidy that your husband is afraid to leave a newspaper lying about. Few men have such a sense of order as most women have, and they are naturally more careless…
For the record, I’ve been happily married for 11 years, and am constantly delighted by the partnership that Rachel and I have. That said, I’d be delighted if anyone could enlighten me with insights and advice for husbands…
But I do definitely agree about indiscriminate shopping.