In 1913, women were expected to wear smotheringly hot full length dresses in order to be considered decent. Most women did not work outside of the home, being expected to be happy in their role as wife and mother. In most of the world, women didn’t even have the right to vote. Surely any marital advice given at this time would seem incredibly outdated or, at the very least, charmingly quaint, in the year 2011? It was with this attitude that I first opened the pages of Don’ts For Wives by Blanche Ebbutt. It did not take me long to realise just how wrong I was. While some of the tips are no longer relevant to the average reader – those having to do with how to deal with servants, for example – much of the wisdom within this volume is as relevant today as it was then. I found myself taking note of many pieces of advice, with the intention of attempting to remedy my behaviour within my own marriage.
Much chastened, I moved onto Don’ts for Husbands with a more open mind. Once again, I was surprised at how relevant much of Ms Ebbutt’s advice is to today’s relationships and the progressiveness of some of the points, considering the era in which the book was written.
It is a shame that these books have been so unknown for so long, as I feel that the advice in them is more relevant to a newly married couple than a dozen books of the Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus persuasion. I would venture to go so far as to state that a copy of each of these books should be given to the happy couple as a wedding present (or perhaps a housewarming gift for those in less formal arrangements). Certainly anybody in a permanent relationship should consider reading them. You will be surprised at just how much you are doing wrong.
Advice for Wives
- Don’t interpret too literally the ‘obey’ of the Marriage Service. Your husband has no right to control your individuality.
- Don’t let your husband feel that you are a ‘dear little woman’, but no good intellectually. If you find yourself getting stale, wake up your brain.
- Don’t keep your sweetest smiles and your best manners for outsiders; let your husband come first.
- Don’t grumble because his idea of work differs from yours. If he works hard at anything, let him do it his own way, and be satisfied.
- 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 allow yourself to get into the habit of dressing carelessly when there is ‘only’ your husband to see you. Depend upon it he has no use for faded tea-gowns and badly dressed hair, and he abhors the sight of curling pins as much as other men do. He is a man after all, and if his wife does not take the trouble to charm him, there are plenty of other women who will.
Advice for Husbands
- Don’t refuse to get up and investigate in the night if your wife hears an unusual noise, or fancies she smells fire or escaping gas. She will be afraid of shaming you by getting up herself, and will lie awake working herself into a fever. This may be illogical, but it’s true.
- Don’t be surprised, or annoyed, or disappointed, to find, after treating your wife for years as a feather-brain, that you have made her one, and that she fails to rise to the occasion when you need her help.
- Don’t belittle your wife before visitors. You may think it a joke to speak of her little foibles, but she will not easily forgive you.
- Don’t refuse your wife’s overtures when next you meet if you have unfortunately had a bit of a breeze. Remember it costs her something to make them, and if you weren’t a bit of a pig, you would save her the embarrassment by making them yourself.
- Don’t chide your wife in public, whatever you may feel it necessary to do in private. She will not easily forgive you for having witnesses to her discomfiture.
- Don’t call your wife a coward because she is afraid of a spider. Probably in a case of real danger she would prove to be quite as brave as you.
The Kindle versions of Don’ts for Wives and Don’ts for Husbands are published in Great Britain by A & C Black Publishers Limited, 36 Soho Square, London W1D 3QY, http://www.acblack.com (2007). e-ISBN: 978-1-408-13354-5 (Husbands), 978-1-40813-352-1 (Wives). Physical books originally published in 1913.
- Do’s and Don’ts for Saving Your Troubled Marriage (married.answers.com)
- 5 Mistakes Wives Make That Lead To Divorce (paparazzoentertainments.wordpress.com)