Do pick up these books of `Don'ts'

April 08, 2008|By SUSAN REIMER

The little British publishing house that brought us the Harry Potter series and saw its stock, literally, explode, appears to have struck another vein, although a very different one.

Reaching into its archives, Bloomsbury Publishing republished a pair of how-to marriage books that might better be classified as how-not-to books.

Don'ts for Wives and Don'ts for Husbands, first published in 1913, were an immediate sensation in Britain when they were republished last year, selling more than half a million copies in time for Christmas.

The little books - at smaller than 3-by-5, it is hard to imagine one contains even a fraction of what a husband should not do - have made it across the pond and will be available this month on Amazon.

Written by a woman with a first name perfect for such advice - Blanche Ebbutt - the companion books aim to disabuse newlyweds of any romantic or wrong-headed notions about marriage.

"Art is a hard mistress, and there is no art quite so hard as that of being a wife," begins Don'ts for Wives.

She describes a husband as someone who "becomes tempestuous over a tight shoe, broody over an out-of-date egg, and cross, sulky or mirthful for reasons that no sane woman can understand."

She is tough on the guys, too.

"My dear sir, You are neither as bad nor as good a fellow as you imagine yourself to be," begins its companion book, " ... you will thank me for having told you many things that otherwise you could have learned only by experience, more or less bitter."The advice is dated, to be sure. Especially the suggestion that husbands buy their wives gloves regularly. And it is common to laugh at the way men and women viewed each other in that long- ago time.

But there is also a decency, a wisdom and respect and a mutual deference in Ebbutt's words that deserve an audience even among the most modern of newlyweds.

Some examples:

For the wives?

"Don't be surprised, if you have married for money, or position, or fame, that you get only money, or position, or fame; love cannot be bought."

"Don't expect life to be all sunshine. Besides if there are no clouds, you will lose the opportunity of showing your husband what a good chum you can be."

"Don't interpret too literally the `obey' of the Marriage Service. Your husband has no right to control your individuality.

"Don't nag your husband. If he won't carry out your wishes for love of you, he certainly won't because you nag him."

And the best piece of advice: "Don't brood; that way madness lies."

For husbands, don't keep up the "poor little woman pose too long. A woman may like to be a plaything for a little while but the novelty soon wears off."

"Don't dwell on the beauty of other women if you know your wife to be sensitive on the point. There is no sense in rubbing sores, although some men seem to find a strange pleasure in it."

"Don't trouble your wife to do something which you can just as easily do for yourself. She is your co-partner not your servant."

And this bit of wisdom, which I love: "Do remember to shake out your pipe and put down your book a little earlier than usual if your wife has had a troublesome day."

susan.reimer@baltsun.com

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