Monday, December 03, 2007

I’m indebted for this item to the noted American soprano Aprile Millo who posted it on her blog. It’s a guide from 52 years ago instructing the American wife on how to serve and please her husband. It shows just how different America was half a century ago when post-World War II society was all about reverting to the way things were “before.” In the decade following its publication, Feminism would begin a frontal assault on everything these instructions stand for.

If the picture doesn't enlarge when clicked to make reading the text easier, I'll try to transcribe and post it on the blog. It’s almost unbelievable to read this document today, but it happens that its spirit is still alive and well in certain sections of the culture.

Three years ago, I was installing a production I had designed for Intermezzo Chamber Opera for a three-night stand at the Hackmatack Playhouse in South Berwick, Maine. Members of the company were put up in the summer homes of its supporters in Ogunquit. Late at night as I made the half hour drive, I found myself listening to an AM radio station from somewhere in the Heartland, on which an Evangelical preacher was discussing family life in the U.S. “Men,” he said at one point, “let me tell you how to make your wives happy, what they want from you, what they need from you.”

What women need, it turned out, is for men to take complete command in running every aspect of family life, from dictating how the children are to be raised to choosing where the family will go on vacation. Furthermore, their wives are thirsting to be corrected when they do things their husbands don’t like or when they do them in a manner that in some way displeases them. In terms of their inner lives, their spiritual lives, these wives are anxiously waiting for orders to be passed down from their husbands (who are, we were told, the deputy of Jesus in the home), and will feel incomplete and dissatisfied if they aren’t directed how they’re to live and what they’re to think.

People who advocate these things will try to increase their hold on the White House in next year’s election.


The wedding was enjoyable. The service was held at St. Cecilia’ Church, a “very Boston” church that was built at the special request of the Irish Catholic chamber maids, chauffeurs, footmen, cooks, butlers, nannies, valets and stable boys who served the great Back Bay mansions that lined Beacon Street and Commonwealth Avenue, as well as Marlboro, Newbury and all the “alphabet streets” from Arlington to Hereford. There was an army of them. They got permission and a piece of land from the Boston Archdiocese, and raised the money among themselves to put up a working class red brick basilica with a colorful, almost exuberant interior.

The stained glass windows are in a style that can be described only as Celtic Byzantine.
The murals on the life of Saint Patrick (far more prominent in the church than St. Cecilia herself—this IS Boston, after all) and of Pope Pius X are standard late 19th century religious kitsch. A half dome lined with gilded molded plaster rosettes, each with a small light bulb in its center, tops the reproduction of da Vinci’s The Last Supper that backs the altar and is pure theater. Liberally filled with white roses, it was a great setting for the marriage.

The priest, a nice-looking, young[ish] man, kept repeating that even though he himself couldn’t marry, he had advice to give those who were doing so. The groom, one of Fritz’s nephews, runs marathons; he and his best men (his two brothers) wore streamlined tuxes with handsome burgundy vests and ties. The bride, who does triathelons as well as marathons, had chosen a strikingly simple, truly elegant gown that perfectly complimented her slender, athletic figure. I don't expect her to be waiting for orders from her new husband similar to the above anytime soon.

When the full nuptial mass was over, we all repaired to The Harvard Club on Commonwealth Avenue, which is filled with acres of dark, carved walnut paneling; large, dark portraits of departed Harvard faculty, administration and alumni luminaries--a vestige of the “Old Boston” style and service. In spite of its reputation and the cost of accommodations there, the room Fritz’s North Carolina sister had reserved for herself was largely non-functional. Large and nicely appointed, it was also glacially cold with no thermostat in sight. The TV remote didn’t work and when we tried to phone the front desk to report these problems, the phone didn’t work (later in the day it was discovered that the light in the walk-in closet wasn’t working either).

Housekeeping operated a valve on the bottom of the radiator, provided a new TV because the problem was there rather than with the remote, and a new phone. We thought it all a bit strange but settled in to fill the time until the reception with reading, talk and a bit of rest.

Cocktails and dinner were downstairs, the former with decent wine and passed hors d’oeuvres, the latter in the great hall whose thirty-five foot high ceiling was an impressive if not particularly warm or intimate setting for a gathering of family and friends. The eight-piece band played throughout most of dinner, at decibel levels that turned chit-chat into shouting matches, but we managed as best we could. The menu was lobster bisque; salad of field greens, mushrooms and onion strings; filet mignon with a side of grilled halibut, butternut squash risotto, gingered carrots and asparagus; ending with wedding cake with chocolate-dipped strawberries added.

All in all, enjoyable. We met some very nice people, Fritz got back together with some family and some old family friends from the past, and I made it through on my crutches without incident. A small brunch Sunday morning was much less formal and a nice end to the wedding events.

Glad the wedding deal went off beautifully.....By the way, are you guys going to see Meav in Manchester on Dec. 16? Link below. Gotta run for now and see if my "cool or warm drink" is waiting for me.....and I hope he doesn't question my whereabouts.
Aprile Millo! I remember a time she was somewhat 'hurting' in voice. So she has had a return?
BTW - "Frau" was fantastic and the most lavish thing i have seen on stage so far, apart from a Cirque de Soleil show.
I know some subs who would love those good wife suggestions. I may have to work some of them into my dom spiel. I'm not sure that it's possible to spank a guy, say, "speak in a low, soothing, and pleasant voice, boy!" and keep a straight face, though.

By the way, that minister you heard talking about how to be a good husband? Totally whipped.
Some of those suggestions are really extreme, aren't they?

I'm amazed sometimes at how TV shows - even my favorite, Andy Griffith - promoted unhealthy marriages. Women should quit their jobs if their boyfriends feel threatened by them, for example, and girls should pretend that they can't do things as well as boys to make the boys feel better.

We still have a long way to go as a society, but we've also come a long way.
On the "Good Wife" thing -- this is exactly why I need a wife, not a husband. No wonder a man's home is his castle, sheesh.

A friend and I had actually written up our own version in response to that piece, several years back, which had a bit of a run on The Internets. I'll see if I can find it.
Post a Comment

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?