Thursday, Jul. 03, 2008

An Old Wife's Tale

I'm an embarrassingly frequent (and happy) flipper-through of How to Be a Good Wife, a 2008 reprint of a 1936 handbook titled Do's and Don'ts for Wives. Inevitably much of the advice ("Do, if you have only two reception rooms, abolish the drawing-room") feels amusingly — or enragingly — antique. But who can pass up an admonition like "Are you a flirt? Because if you are, there is trouble ahead for you, as sure as eggs are eggs." You'll also find, in this seemingly obsequious guide, a tincture of feminist, even postfeminist, rebellion. The power structure is strong, this book seems to say, and not on your side, but the best way to handle this may be with cunning, high spirits, judicious flattery and taking care not to fight with a man while he's hungry. "After all is said and done, husbands are not terribly difficult to manage." Just be sure, apparently, to stay cuter and sweeter than that once very modern threat to wives, the office typist.

Galchen's book Atmospheric Disturbances was published in May