On 8 April 2010 the London Review of Books reviewed a 14th Century Parisian book of household management called The Good Wife’s Guide: A Medieval Household Book. This is a compendium of medieval lore which aimed to instruct young wives how to be good, efficient, and obedient. The following is an excerpt from a section entitled Care of the Husband’s Person:
Therefore love your husband’s person carefully. I entreat you to see that he has clean linen, for that is your domain, while the concerns and troubles of men are those outside affairs that they must handle, amidst coming and going, running here and there, in rain, wind, snow and hail, sometimes drenched, sometimes dry, now sweating, now shivering, ill-fed, ill-lodged, ill-shod and poorly rested. Yet nothing represents a hardship for him, because the thought of his wife’s good care for him on his return comforts him immensely. The ease, joys and pleasures he knows she will provide for him herself, or have done for him in his presence, cheer him: removing his shoes in front of a good fire, washing his feet, offering clean shoes, and socks, serving plenteous food and drink .... she puts him to sleep in white sheets and his nightcap, covered with good furs, and satisfies him with other joys and amusements, intimacies, loves and secrets about which I remain silent.
With the above in mind let us now fast forward seven hundred years, noting the changed roles of husband and wife. This is the 2010 version:
The Good Husband’s Guide
Therefore love your wife’s person carefully. I entreat you, before you sit down to watch sport on television all day with a can of beer in hand, to see that she has clean underclothes, for the washing machine is your domain, as is the washing up and the making of the bed in the morning. The concerns and troubles of women are those outside affairs that they must handle, amidst taking the children to school, getting the car serviced, running here and there in rain, wind, snow and hail, sometimes drenched, sometimes dry, now sweating, now shivering, dealing with the bank, the mortgage and an unsympathetic boss, buying new shoes for the children and taking them to football practice, violin lessons and ballet; getting her facial, haircut and manicure and answering all the emails during her half hour lunch break. Despite eating on the run, arranging all the social commitments and the visits of plumbers and electricians, nothing represents a hardship for her, because the thought of her husband’s good care for her on her return home comforts her immensely. The ease, joys and pleasures she knows he will provide for her cheer her: removing her shoes in front of a good fire, washing her feet, offering clean shoes, and socks, cooking plenteous food and pouring copious drink .... he puts her to sleep in white sheets, and, after he brings her a nice hot drink of cocoa and she has taken her anti-depressants, he tries to satisfies her with other joys and amusements, intimacies, loves and secrets, before she falls asleep exhausted. As to his feelings about this I remain silent.
The Good Wife’s Guide: A Medieval Household Book is translated by Gina Greco and Christine Rose and published by Cornell, £16.95, March 2009, ISBN 978-0-8014-7474-3. The Good Wife’s Guide is reviewed by Miri Rubin.