Althouse | category: marriage



an endless succession of beans and nuts.

"I can read Henry James in a dim room near the ocean on a beach day without feeling I’m missing life."

Now there's a super-power! What reading skills of yours compare to that?

The impressive power belongs to Mona Simpson, quoted in "Mona Simpson’s Fiancé Promised to Read ‘Middlemarch.’ He Never Did. Now He’s Her Ex. 'Certain men are constitutionally incapable of reading one of the greatest novels ever written,' says the author, whose new novel is 'Commitment'" (NYT).

Oh? Do you want to talk about that fiancé? That's what made me click through to the interview. I've read the article, and I've actually read "Middlemarch." Have you? Would you reject someone who's "incapable of reading" "Middlemarch"? 

Now, you might say the problem isn't that he somehow couldn't read it but that he promised to read it, and then he didn't follow through. But I'm seeing that word "fiancé," and doesn't that embody a promise? But — yikes, all this close reading! — it doesn't say he's her ex because he was incapable of reading it (or because he promised and then didn't do it). It just says he promised, he didn't do it, and now he's her ex. Just a sequence of events. No pinning down of the causality. Indeed, it doesn't even say say that he's one of the "certain men" who are "incapable." Maybe he's not. That would make his breaking of the promise worse.

I'm stuck on the article title. In the text of the interview, it says:

Has a book ever brought you closer to another person, or come between you?

“Middlemarch.” I once wrenched a promise from a young fiancé to read it. The marriage ended more than a decade later, with the novel still unread. I tried a second time. Certain men are constitutionally incapable of reading one of the greatest novels ever written.

Ah! I like her so much more reading her own words. She's self-critical: She wrenched the promise. And she didn't break her promise to marry. They married and stayed together for a decade. Does "I tried a second time" mean that she wrenched a promise to read "Middlemarch" from another man, married him too, and he, too, failed to read the book? In any case, I'm feeling the humor in "constitutionally incapable of reading ['Middlemarch']."

The other side of that power to read a dense book on a beautiful day without feeling that you're "missing life" may be a failure to fully align with a partner who's anxious about getting out into that day and about you missing life, and about being bound to you and therefore missing the companionship that would fulfill his drive to fully experience life?

It's been half a century since I read "Middlemarch," but as I remember it, the main character is married to a fusty, book-centered man and must ultimately realize that she's missed out on life. 

"Their marriage had ended up being more asymmetrical than they had expected."

"'Your entire philosophical career is a discussion of our marriage, in one way or another,' Arnold said. Agnes agreed. If their marriage was a kind of play, she was the central character, and the author, too...."

... Agnes said Arnold worried that they’d given me the impression that their marriage was a success story.... When we talked again, I asked them about the ways in which they weren’t as happy as they appeared to be. They spoke to me on Zoom from Agnes’s office, which she had turned into a kind of magical kindergarten: bright stars, circular mirrors, and L.E.D. lights hung from ropes wrapped in yarn of different colors; the walls were covered in fabrics featuring flowery blobs; a table had large polka dots. 
“It’s not like this thing that we do, which is constantly talk about philosophy, is a happy activity,” Arnold told me. “It’s just as difficult and problematic and fraught an activity as what I take it many couples would do together.” 
“I guess I would go even a little further than Arnold in saying that this territory is pretty often painful,” Agnes said. She was sitting at her desk, wearing a pink dress with large llamas on it.... 
[Arnold said,] “When Socrates says that philosophy is a preparation for death, he’s very clear that he doesn’t mean you’re supposed to commit suicide. It’s just that there’s some way in which philosophy could stand up to the task of making you able to deal with death when it comes.” 
“The corresponding claim,” Agnes said, “would be that somehow the project of marriage would make you capable of being alone.”

"She had been a village beauty before marriage, noted for her skill at dancing the bolero and rattling the castanets..."

"... and she still retained her early propensities, spending the hard earnings of honest Peregil in frippery, and laying the very donkey under requisition for junketing parties into the country on Sundays, and saints’ days, and those innumerable holidays which are rather more numerous in Spain than the days of the week. With all this she was a little of a slattern, something more of a lie-abed, and, above all, a gossip of the first water; neglecting house, household, and everything else, to loiter slipshod in the houses of her gossip neighbors. He, however, who tempers the wind to the shorn lamb, accommodates the yoke of matrimony to the submissive neck." 

Wrote Washington Irving in "The Alhambra" (Gutenberg).

I found that via the OED entry for "lie-abed," which means "One who lies late in bed; a late riser; a sluggard."

ADDED: I had used my idea of the word — "lay-a-bed" — when Meade slept late, and I felt chastened to see it's really "lie-abed," making me look like the sort of ignoramus that doesn't know the "lay"/"lie" distinction. But now, I'm thinking, what about "layabout"? It's not "lieabout," though it refers to someone who lies around — an idler or tramp — and not someone who's placing objects here and there. 

In its entry on the word "layabout," the OED cites a meaning of "lay" that is the same as "lie," going back as far as 1300. It advises that that now "it is only dialectal or an illiterate substitute for lie." But: "In the 17th and 18th centuries, it was not apparently regarded as a solecism." Aha!

It was good enough for Byron ("he"=man, "thou"=ocean):

 His steps are not upon thy paths; thy fields        
  Are not a spoil for him; thou dost arise
  And shake him from thee; the vile strength he wields
  For earth’s destruction thou dost all despise,
  Spurning him from thy bosom to the skies,
  And send’st him, shivering in thy playful spray,        
  And howling, to his gods, where haply lies
  His petty hope in some near port or bay,
And dashest him again to earth: there let him lay.

"In a handwritten letter dated Thursday, April 14th, (1955), [J.D.] Salinger announces, in the most diffident way possible, as if to come right out and say it would be to jinx it..."

"... that he got married. 'The fact is, there was a sort of elopement around here recently, and I was one of the principals.' The bride was Claire Douglas, Salinger’s second wife and the mother of his children. He adds, 'I can give out the worst kind of information about myself, not only without flinching, but, usually, grinning like a fool. But I can’t touch happy news. It leaves me non-plussed. It drives me underground.'"

From "The Editor Who Edited Salinger/The personal archive of Gus Lobrano, a longtime editor at The New Yorker, provides a glimpse of a vanished literary past" by Mary Norris (The New Yorker).

Around the time of the aforementioned marriage, Salinger was working on what he called “the wedding story,” titled “Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters.” “It’s of novelette length, and the theme and form are terribly elaborate not to say flamboyant,” he writes. He goes to great lengths to finish a difficult passage: “I shaved my head about six weeks ago, the better to see this one Saturday sequence through to the finish, knowing I’d be too vain to go into town when I was stuck on a page or a paragraph.” Despair brought him to a peculiar pass: “I nearly bought a beautiful, marked-down Morgan horse a few weeks ago, thinking it would keep me happy till the book got done, but in the end, I let it go. I like to ride, but I like a horse to disappear when I’m through riding it, not just stand around somewhere.”

"Her brother, Gordon, brought a 19-year-old, fellow art student round to her flat in Harrow. He had red hair and a face whitened with talcum powder."

"His name was Malcolm McLaren: self-declared genius and godfather of punk. So began one of Britain's great creative partnerships... His mother was a sex worker and he had been brought up by his eccentric grandmother, who lived by the motto 'to be bad is to be good and to be good is just boring.'... He took six days to visit her in hospital after the birth of their son, refused to be called 'Dad' and threatened to cart the child to Barnardo's when asked to pitch in. Westwood retreated to a caravan in Wales; hunting for wild vegetables while he ran riot in London and married another art student. But attraction overcame everything.... Westwood rekindled the partnership, blossomed artistically and simply ignored the abuse."

From the BBC obituary for Vivian Westwood.

"Then came the Sex Pistols, snarling at the 1970s. McLaren embraced them as an angry pot-shot at the hippy movement he hated. Westwood opened a shop on the King's Road, conjuring the look the Pistols made famous. A bewildered world gasped and named it Punk. She called the shop, 'Let It Rock', then changed the name to 'Too Fast To Live, Too Young To Die.' Finally, it was re-branded simply as 'SEX' - the huge pink sign above the door meant only the brave went in...."

Lots more at the link, and the BBC has a nice photo collection here

I've found 7 delightful/disturbing TikToks for you today. Let me know what worked for you.

1. His wife wants to go out to lunch dressed like that — like Edgar Allan Poe.

2. This man could not be more impressed than by the Thom Brown Pre-Fall 2023 fashion show. He shan't return to regular life after this.

3. An autistic person's insightful tip on how to bond with neurotypical people at work: Just tell them what day of the week it is. They love it. She's right! I hadn't really noticed it before, but it is true. People love to hear what day of the week it is.

4. A baby is truly amazed at the first experience of eyeglasses.

5. Jordan Peterson delivers some very specific advice about how husbands had better treat their wives or else — or else you will become isolated and lonely and if you don't fix it you'll end up divorced and fixing it for the rest of your life.

6. Sinister Pond Babe explores Sac City, Iowa.

7. Speaking of sinister... these birds!

"Living apart can be a way for women to reap the benefits of marriage — love, commitment, support — while avoiding the burdens that traditionally come with being a wife..."

"... including the disproportionate amount of work that tends to fall on them at home. Sana Akhand, 33, who lived a 30-minute walk from her husband in New York City from October 2021 to June of this year, said that living apart allowed her to create the life she aspired to since girlhood, which included having a successful career in addition to finding love.... She said she [had begun] to lose her 'rebellion and independent nature' and 'just fell into super-traditional roles and paths of life, like being the wife.... Being a wife is subconsciously really draining, because you’re just thinking about this other person, their well-being,' Ms. Akhand said.... There are many factors that appear to contribute to making the model more socially acceptable. One is the growing visibility and acceptance of relationships that don’t look like the traditional heterosexual marriage, with all its attendant pressures and stereotypes..."

From "The Wife Left, but They’re Still Together/After a pandemic dip, the number of married couples 'living apart together' has started to rise again. And women, in search of their own space, are driving the increase" (NYT).

The comments over there stress something you're probably thinking: It's expensive to have 2 homes. And: If what you want to break free of stereotypical gender roles, why not change yourself right where you are? Why must you go away? But those are questions about what's easier and what's harder (and whether you must do everything the easy way).

With covid, things were not traditional. People were living together — and working in the same space — much more than is traditional. The old convention was for the husband and wife to have different spheres of activity during the day. I can see wanting a separate workspace at some location away from home as a way to get more of the old-time separation.

"The question at the trial was: What did Weinstein do? But its subtext is an argument about female ambition: What should a woman want?"

Writes Dana Goodyear in "Harvey Weinstein, the Monster of #MeToo/If Weinstein is acquitted in L.A., it will be tempting to conclude that #MeToo is over. But, even if he is convicted, some may reach the same conclusion" (The New Yorker).

The jury has been deliberating for 3 days so far. Today is Day 4, so the prospect of acquittal is real.

Many of Weinstein’s accusers are women who sought access to an industry over which Weinstein held sway, and who continued to strive for it in spite of his alleged abuse. They still wanted the job, the chance....

Two of the witnesses... like many other Weinstein accusers, kept in touch with him afterward...

When the defense told [one witness] that no one had forced her to go to Weinstein’s hotel room on a subsequent occasion, when she had set up a business meeting between Weinstein and a male friend of hers, she parried, “My ego forced me to.”...

[Natassia] Malthe, a frank and salty witness—Weinstein, she said, was a “fat fuck”—suggested that, having already been raped, she “wanted to make the best of this situation... He has you by the fucking throat, knowing that, if you don’t comply, that your career is down the drain, knowing that this thing you’ve worked on for months . . . and that’s not right.”...

If Malthe’s and other similar accounts are true, this is Weinstein at his most diabolical: violating women and then dangling phantom go-nowhere gigs to create an elaborate fiction of an exchange for some future defense, or perhaps to better defend his own conscience from misgivings and moral pangs....

Will a jury find that a woman’s desire to work undermines her account of being sexually violated in the process? Will it believe that these women, participating in a criminal case, are gleefully jumping on what [defense lawyer Alan Jackson] called the “2017 dogpile”? Arguing that Jane Doe No. 3 and Siebel Newsom both engaged in consensual relationships with Weinstein for their own benefit (“He benefitted, and she benefitted”),  Jackson said that after 2017 they were “desperate to relabel their relationships with Harvey Weinstein.”

Siebel Newsom, he said, “cannot square in her mind the idea that she’s a successful, well-educated, well-bred, refined woman who had consensual sex with Harvey Weinstein in exchange for opportunity and access.”

It was “transactional sex,” he said, and Siebel Newsom had buyer’s remorse. But, he said, “regret is far from rape. You don’t get to rewrite your own history, no matter who you’re married to.”

ADDED: Let's look at that question I put in the post title: "What should a woman want?"

Weinstein's lawyers weren't questioning women's ambition. They were acknowledging and crediting women's ambition. As I read those quotes from the defense's closing argument, they were characterizing the women as individuals with full agency, choosing to pay with sex to get what they wanted.

That is, there was consent. Obviously, that doesn't mean a business should be run like that. But in the trial, it is only proffered as a defense to the criminal charge of rape, not as a reason to think transactional sex is not a problem.

But it's easy to condemn rape, and very hard to get into the complex problem of transactional sex. But in the good old days of radical feminism, we did get into that problem. Once you are there, you will be critiquing all the relationships you want to feel warm and romantic about — including the marriage of Siebel and Gavin... and your own marriage. 

AND: What would a rule against transactional sex look like? The only permissible sex would be sex for sex — an equal exchange. Both (or all) parties want the sex precisely because they want the sex and nothing else. That's a high ideal. You might want to try to adhere to it as a matter of personal ethics, but I can't believe you'd want it as a legally enforceable standard of conduct. I'll bet you wouldn't even accept it socially as a basis for judging other people.

"Strict gender roles have governed domestic life in Japan for generations. Men often retire without ever having held a paring knife..."

"... or washed a dish. Those who lose a spouse often find themselves unable to do the most rudimentary chores. An old Japanese saying — 'Danshi-chubo-ni-hairazu,' or 'men should be ashamed to be found in the kitchen' — has spooked husbands from most any housework. Even those who wanted to help typically lacked the know-how.... Simmering resentments frequently come to a head once a man’s career ends and his wife starts to question the arrangement, Tokukura said. 'The power dynamic changes. The wife asks, "Why do I have to do all the housework if you are no longer bringing in the money?"'"

From "Older Japanese men, lost in the kitchen, turn to housework school" (WaPo).

At housework school, old men meet other other old men:

Five of them were fixing a meal recently, Kaneko standing tall in front of the stove and helming the frying pan as the others took turns placing mounds of minced chicken in oil.

“Don’t overdo it,” he warned 80-year-old Kikuo Yano, laughing as he rounded out the nuggets with a spoon. Yano has been taking classes this fall to surprise his wife of 43 years.

“All this time my wife has done everything,” the retired architect acknowledged. “I haven’t done anything around the house. If I don’t know how to, I guess there’s nothing I can do. But if I learn how to do it, then it’s time I help.”

He now wakes up early to press his clothes. Ten times he has practiced a curry dish he plans on serving his family on New Year’s Day. “You see this shirt?” he says, running his hands up and down the sleeve, a smile stretching across his face. “I ironed it myself."

Out with the old — "men should be ashamed" — and in with the new —  "I ironed it myself."

I like the idea of taking distinct pride in doing the humble, simple, concrete things in life. It's a shame to imbue these things with shame (especially if that is part of system of subordinating others).

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