Last night I was reading Vogue UK when I came upon a feature by Alice Thomson, commissioning editor of the (London) Times.
My first instinct was to skip right by it, as it was titled “How to Be a Good Wife.”
But the article opened with a quote from Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women that caught my eye. Soon after Meg marries her beloved John, she tells her sisters this:
“My husband shall always feel free to bring a friend home whenever he likes . . . There shall be no flurry, no scolding, no discomfort, but a neat house, a cheerful wife, and a good dinner.”
Knowing this novel well, I read over the article, waiting for the other shoe to drop.
However, the article began by commiserating with husbands who were now expected to participate in domestic duties—and continued by critiquing women who use up all their nurturing on their bosses and their children, leaving their husbands to cook their own dinners and bring their own laundry to the cleaner.
But where were Meg and John, the "superior wife" and good husband? Nowhere to be found in this article.
Here's how their story continues: One day John does, in fact, bring home a friend for dinner, unannounced, and finds a wife who is “worn out” from attempting to make jelly all day (and largely failing to do so).
Instead of preparing her husband and guest a meal in her shockingly messy kitchen, Meg orders John to take his guest to her mother’s home, “and tell him I’m away—sick, dead, anything. I won’t see him, and you two can laugh at me and my jelly as much as you like; you won’t have anything else here.”
Thomson’s article ended with the possibility of compromise: share duties at home, which makes perfect sense.
And although I’d like to end Alcott’s chapter as above, with a lesson to the young couple that neither spouse can be "perfect," however one chooses to define "perfection," I must admit that Meg does apologize first to her husband, through a “penitent kiss.”
But I do appreciate that she had enough spirit to chase away her husband and guest the first time, when she was busy, busy, busy with her own work.