I recently checked out an interesting book at the library, titled “The Good’s Wife’s Guide.” Originally in French and published somewhere between the 14th and 15th centuries, I thought it would be an interesting glimpse at marital expectations from a different era. The narrator is an anonymous Parisian nobleman addressing a young bride and providing her with advice for her future duties.
This book is certainly not the only household manual of its kind, but I thought its way of addressing the reader as bride was unique and charming. A few quotes are provided further below.
As you can see, some chapters are more relevant than others. The hawking chapter is twenty solid pages about handling hawks and falcons. I now know how to assess my hawk’s health by looking at his droppings.
I paid closest attention to the middle section (Devotion to Your Husband, Obedience, Care of the Husband’s Person, etc.), and saw several passages I liked:
"Be moderately affectionate and close toward your and your husband’s nearest blood relatives, but distant from all other men. Most of all, steer clear of swaggering and idle young men who live beyond their means and who, possessing no land or lineage, become dancers. Refrain also from consorting with courtiers of great lords, and don’t mix with any men or women with reputations for leading trivial, amorous, and licentious lives" (94).
"Similarly, let a woman take care to whom she will be married, for however poor or lowly his estate before the marriage, he nevertheless must be and is her sovereign lord for all time to come after the marriage, and he can increase or diminish everything. For this reason you must consider more the character than the wealth of your future husband, because you can not change him afterward" (105).
[On obedience:] "For recognize that since he is a rational man and of natural good sense, he will not command anything with cause and will not let you do anything unreasonable" (122).
"However, there are some women who want to gloss and dissect their husband’s reason and good sense, and what is worse, to look wise and masterful, they do it more in public than in private....Such rebellious, haughty, and sly women, when they have spoilt everything in order to show their mastery, think to excuse themselves by convincing their husbands that they considered the matter trifling and for that reason did not carry out the order. But wise husbands well apprehend that it is from disdain and spite..." (122-123).
"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 nothing represents a hardship for him, because the thought of his wife’s good care for him upon his return comforts him immensely. The ease, joys, and pleasures he knows she will provide for him herself, or have done for him in her presence, cheer him: removing his shoes in front of a good fire, washing his feet, offering clean shoes and socks, serving plenteous good and drink, respectfully honoring him. After this, 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" (138).
"Therefore, to continue in your husband’s affection and good graces, I beg you, my dear, be gentle, lovable, and gracious toward him. Treat him the way the good simple women of our country claim their sons have been treated when they fallen in love elsewhere and their mothers cannot put a stop to it" (138).
"Some women early in the marriage fawn on their husbands excessively. They imagine that their husbands, who appear so adoring and gracious toward them, would, over time, hardly dare to become vexed at somewhat less attention lavished on them. So they slacken up and little by little show less respect, attention, and obedience" (141).
I don’t see much practical relationship advice in this book that can’t be found in modern books like The Surrendered Wife, but it is a very interesting piece of history. This advice is old, perhaps timeless. Even at a time when women had greater social pressure, some still publicly badmouthed their husbands or slacked off in their affection, creating a need for books like these. If you’re at all interested in history or just want a book to put you in RPW state of mind, by all means pick this up!
Anonymous. The Good Wife’s Guide. Trans. Gina Greco et al. New York: Cornell University Press, 2009. Print.