Sunday, 21 October 2012

Wifely reads

Good Wives: Mary, Fanny, Jennie and Me, 1845-2001
   I recently read two books about wives, the first Good Wives? by Margaret Forster and the second Joanna Trollope's The Soldier's Wife. Although written over a decade apart, they do have themes in common, such as is a wife able to use her education and abilities to develop her own individuality, or must she subsume her life into that of her husband. Good Wives? looks at the lives of three very different women, Mary Livingstone, wife of David; Fanny Stevenson, wife of Robert Louis, and Jenny Lee, wife of Aneurin Bevan., as
well as Margaret Forster's own married life.  All from different periods in history, all married to men for whom career was all-important and which were also of national  and international interest and significance. Margaret Forster also includes herself in the reflections about wife-hood, whether Mary, Fanny, Jenny or herself were good or bad wives. The lives of these women and their husbands were full of stress and anxiety and in the public view not all were always 'good' wives. Some of the problems they faced are still present today, such as , if you or your husband  works abroad, does the partner without the job in a foreign country stay at home and carry on with their career, or join their partner abroad. And when children arrive, such complicated decisions become even more so. Health, either of husband or wife, is an important aspect of married life and Margaret Forster gives several examples of wives protecting husbands for the sake of their health, but fewer examples vice versa. Although at times a slightly frustrating read, it is still of interest, as the topic of what makes a good or bad wife will doubtless go on changing over time.

Joanna Trollope's The Soldier's Wife tells the story of Alexa  Riley and her husband Major Dan Riley. He is about to return from a tour of duty in Afghanistan, and when home finds it difficult to talk about his  and his troops experiences there. Meanwhile Alexa, daughter of a minor diplomat and with a first  class languages degree, has applied for a job at a local private school. Isabel, Alexa's eldest daughter is unhappy at her boarding school, feeling she is missing out on family life at home with her young twin sisters. The friendships of Army wives on a camp are somewhat sketchily drawn,  balanced against the support that the returning men provide for each other. Joanna Trollope is good on the details of an occasionally chaotic family life, which highlights the lack of communication between Alexa and Dan. However, support from grandparents and somewhat surprisingly the Army lead to a more-or-less satisfactory ending for the troubled family.

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