“Through heredity great things might be accomplished for the human race – as great things as have been achieved in the improvement of horses and cattle, fruits and flowers.”

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Another instalment in the Ladies’ Handbook series! The original post is here.

Today, chapter II, Making Marriage A Success. For Rebekkka.

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Marriage is dual life; and life, we rightly say, is what we make it. How can this double life be made successful? How may this blending of two lives be made a blessing to both, and through them a blessing to others? How highly important it is that married life be well begun! The first year is the golden opportunity to sow the seeds of usefulness, of happiness and health, for the habits formed and followed then exert a moulding influence throughout after years.

One thing the young husband will discover after the honeymoon is that his wife is not an angel. For this fact he should be thankful. Since the day she promised to be his, he has lived with an imaginary wife, and now he finds he has a real one. To his wide it has likewise been revealed that she has wed a mortal man; who, like other men, eats and drinks despite prenuptial declarations that he could “live on love and kisses.” Both have their weaknesses and faults — blest imperfections! Were it not so, the perfect one would have good reason to complain. Both also have before them years of time which day by day it is their privilege to weave into one harmonious life-pattern. This can be accomplished only through the exercise of mutual love and forbearance, the sharing of joys and sorrows, and the reciprocal surrender of what one is prone to call one’s “rights”. This interdependence of the married has been well set in verse by an old-fashioned poet:–

“Each on the other must in all depend,
The kind adviser, the unfailing friend;
Through the rough world let us each other aid,
Leading and led, obeying and obey’d;
Favour’d and favouring, eager to believe
What should be truth; unwilling to perceive
What has offended; wisely to improve
What pleases most, thus guarding mutual love.”

Home is the kingdom over which the wife should seek to reign as queen. So wholesome and attractive may the home be made by a contented, cheerful woman that the husband will leave it with reluctance, and will return to it at night, after the day’s toil is ended, with nought but thoughts of quietness and peace. The possession of a sunny disposition is indeed a wife’s most valuable asset, for it makes herself and all around her happy.

Some young wives forget that they must keep busy to be happy. Not only must the hands be employed, but head and heart should be engaged as well. The Wise Man draws a picture of such a woman: “She worketh willingly with her hands…She strengtheneth her arms… She giveth meat to her household…She looketh well to the ways of her household, and eateth not the bread of idleness….She openeth her mouth with wisdom; and in her tongue is the law of kindness…Her children arise up and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praiseth her….THe heart of her husband doth safely trust in her; she will do him good and not evil all the days of her life.”

No doubt the foundation of a happy home lies very largely in the kitchen. Too oft have ill-cooked dinners put asunder that which God hath joined together. It is impossible to have peace in the soul while there is war in the stomach. Before the young wife undertakes to feed her husband, let her therefore learn how to prepare a wholesome, appetising meal. A well-cooked dinner is a blessing which cheers and comforts all who eat of it.

Along with diet we must speak of the importance of conforming to the laws of health in other matters, such as bathing, clothing, exercise and rest. Both wife and husband would do well, not only for themselves but for the children who may come to them, to give due thought and attention to the improvement of their health. Health makes marriage a success; a success for parents and children; for present and future generations.

Through heredity great things might be accomplished for the human race – as great things as have been achieved in the improvement of horses and cattle, fruits and flowers. “Like begets like” is the law. From healthy parents, health children spring. How rapidly the race could be advanced if all young men and women should resolve: “The next generation must be born with healthy bodies; must be nurtured in health physical, mental, and moral environments; and must be filled with the ambition to again give birth to a healthier, still nobler generation.”

The four great invisible forces which determine what kind of body, mind, and morals the future boy or girl shall have are known to men of science by the names – variation, heredity, segregation, selection. Variation is always at work, so that no two children are alike. Heredity makes every child a mixture of all the qualities of parents, grandparents, great-grandparents. Segregation keeps peoples and classes to some extent from intermingling, so preserving certain types. Selection leads a woman to decide who shall be the father of her children. After the birth of the child, environment and training complete the work of these great moulding forces.

How sad it is to hear a person mourn a bad heredity and spendthrift habits on the part of parents who, had they but denied themselves unlawful pleasures, could have bequeathed a legacy of health. Prospective parents should determine that their child shall possess the best they have, the best they are able to become. Health – vital power, the power to live a long, pure, happy, useful life – it is the parents’ privilege to give; the child’s right to receive.

If married life is to be crowned with happy children, a due regard must be had for the health of the mother-to-be. (See Chapter VI.) No doubt the disposition of the child, its mental qualities and inclinations, will be quite largely determined by the mental state of the mother during the time her own blood gives it life. How important, then, that she live in an atmosphere of peace and love, and that her days be pleasantly employed. This time of waiting is a trying time for the young wife, disturbed, as it often is, with various physical discomforts, and more or less anxiety of mind. What a source of help the devoted husband may be, supporting her by his strength, and cheering her with words of comfort and encouragement. How like the Good Shepherd he becomes by gently leading her that is with young.

And is not such love and gentleness worth while? Can any but a strong, brave, noble man thus guard weak lives? Would it not be patriotic so to treat the wife, and does she not deserve to be so treated?

Good women are a nation’s chief asset. Hear what a soldier and statesman has to say on this point – Colonel Theodore Roosevelt: —

“Unless the average woman is a good wife and good mother, unless she brings up her children sound in soul and mind and body — unless this is true of the average woman, no brilliancy of genius, no material prosperity, no triumphs of science and industry, will avail to save the race from ruin and death. The mother is the one supreme asset of national life; she is more important by far than the successful statesman or business man, or artist or scientist.”

A successful marriage, we may then conclude, is one which enables the average woman to be a good wife and a good mother; one which enables her to rear her children in soundness of body, mind, and soul. All that interferes with this result tends to make marriage a failure.

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Do you want “Outside the Marriage Circle” next?



Categories: gender & feminism

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5 replies

  1. Y’know, I do have some sympathy with those who mourn the old trope of the nobility of motherhood as sacrifice for the next generation. At least it acknowledged that motherhood was worthwhile work. (Of course, the idea that feminism doesn’t acknowledge mothering as worthwhile work is rubbish, but then so much of the popular perception of feminism is rubbish, isn’t it?)
    The main change that feminist theory brings is that the nurturing and mentoring role of parenthood is worthwhile work no matter which parent performs the bulk quantity of it, and that the sacrifice of self which that involves is noble no matter which parent is doing most of the self-sacrifice.
    While I want some independent financial security as a matter of prudential foreplanning (otherwise what the hell do I do to support my kids if my husband gets run over by a bus?), that doesn’t mean that I don’t realise that my nurturing and mentoring of my kids will be a vital part of my legacy in the end. But the same will be true for my spouse.
    In many ways the only thing I’d change about this advice regarding pair-bonding and parenting is to change the assumption that only women take on the primary childcare role and thus forgo any breadwinning role. Both roles are crucial for functional childrearing, and for most couples having both parents capable of filling both the primary carer and the breadwinner role is the most prudential choice.

  2. I’ve a geeky interest in the theory of heredity they’re using, too. There’s some Galton and a fair bit of Lamarck in there.
    MissPrism’s last blog post..Vocabulary

  3. I’m with you there Tigtog.
    ow rapidly the race could be advanced if all young men and women should resolve: “The next generation must be born with healthy bodies; must be nurtured in health physical, mental, and moral environments; and must be filled with the ambition to again give birth to a healthier, still nobler generation.”
    The Lamarck-ianism of it aside, I can’t see much difference between this and the competitive or anxious, folate-munching, Baby Yoga-doing, Infant Mozart-buying, private school-seeking parents of today.
    Helen’s last blog post..Mugged by Mugler, Galled by Galliano

  4. I’m waiting til pregnant women are treated better before I have another one:

    How important, then, that she live in an atmosphere of peace and love, and that her days be pleasantly employed. This time of waiting is a trying time for the young wife, disturbed, as it often is, with various physical discomforts, and more or less anxiety of mind. What a source of help the devoted husband may be…

    I never did figure out how women have time to do yoga when pregnant. When I wasn’t at work (trying not to throw up into the wastepaper basket) I was asleep. Or I was lying down, exhausted, but unable to sleep. Perhaps the problem is that I wasn’t technically a ‘young wife’ at the time?

  5. I never did figure out how women have time to do yoga when pregnant.

    Ah, but they’re not talking about jaunting off to yoga classes. “Pleasantly employed”, by these authors, means doing all of the cooking and cleaning and needlework, reading the Bible, and maintaining a staunchly cheerful and submissive demeanour. And “help”, by the husband, doesn’t mean getting his hands dirty, it means:

    supporting her by his strength, and cheering her with words of comfort and encouragement. How like the Good Shepherd he becomes by gently leading her that is with young.

    Ew.
    I’ll have to poke around more, see if the book clarifies its stance on heredity.

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