The Angry Wife by Pearl S. Buck

(Book 131) Yes, I am knocking on wood as I type that this was hopefully our last meeting via Zoom. It was the kind of meeting that you hope will be the last because of the sound issues; we had such an echo we felt like Lou Gehrig announcing the end of his baseball career. But let’s get right on to the book.

First Impressions: Most of us gave the book a thumbs-up. Chris said that at the outset, she was primarily aware of how antiquated the book has become, but she found it generally engaging and the characters kept her moving. Susan agreed that it felt old to her as well, but that when the story began to unfold, it grabbed and held her attention. Melissa was surprised that Pearl Buck could write a book about interracial marriage in 1945, but Chris noted that Pearl Buck was raising consciousness about racism and women’s rights long before it was fashionable. Rosalie thought that the characters were stereotypical but that there is truth in stereotypes. Marcia once again gave me credit for choosing a book that spoke to the present condition — that we are still trapped in old ways.

The Anger in The Angry Wife: Linda thought that the title was odd; she mentioned that while Lucinda was not a particularly likable person, she seemed generally resigned to the idea that her husband, and her father, could do whatever they liked and Lucinda had to deal with it. Karen commented that while there is anger expressed, it is seen from the husband/Tom’s point of view. Chris felt that the anger in the title was expressed when Lucinda speaks of how a woman’s fate is controlled by men. She noted that the husbands/fathers were illustrative of male white privilege now. Her husband could do what he wanted because that is the way the world works. Marcia felt that Lucinda wielded a tremendous amount of power, that her pronouncements kept Tom from accepting his brother’s wife and children as part of his own family. Chris emphasized that Lucinda’s power was sexual, that she could withhold her favor, but had to be aware that withholding sex might drive Tom to find sex elsewhere, and indeed, believed she had. My take on the anger issue is that the pre-Civil war wife knew what she was up against. She knew that her husband might use his female slaves for his own enjoyment, or worse, as a thrifty tool to breed more free labor. She was part of a framework that allowed for this to happen, without any threat to her position as mistress of the house. After the war, if these women were no longer slaves, no longer property, they were a threat. If her brother-in-law could choose to see a black woman as the equal of a white woman, her husband could as well and Lucinda’s place was no longer assured. Rosalie added that the book Caste by Isabel Wilkerson discusses this concept, that one’s position is assured by the people who are legitimately lower than you.

So as we read these books about family, I ask the girls a question each month to relate the topic to our own lives. This month’s question wasn’t very popular. I asked who served as their role model when they thought about being a wife — and I was lambasted. Chris said that it didn’t seem like a thing — to have a role model for your relation to another human being. It was problematic to Linda as well. Melissa said that having never been married her personal role model has been Auntie Mame! (I wanted to ask her which one of us she thought didn’t know that already!) Mostly, the reaction was that my feminist fellow readers didn’t want to be defined by their husbands (or anyone else for that matter) and that they found it hard enough establishing their own credit and defining themselves in the world. I felt quite foolish when I said that my role model was Laura Petrie because I wanted to be the kind of wife who could entertain and have lots of people auditioning for musicals and dancing in my living room. We did get some fun advice about being a wife. Melissa’s grandmother told her to set the table — if the table is set he thinks he’s getting food even if it’s not ready yet. Rosalie said her version of that was spray Pledge and boil something!

Our meeting for April will be IN PERSON at Rosalie’s on Monday, April 26 to discuss The Eternal Husband by Fyodor Dostoyevsky.