Tuesday, December 9, 2008

The Modern Griselda

Maria Edgeworth's take on the famous folklore stories about the patient and submissive Griselda, The Modern Griselda (1804), is quite hilarious. It's about a wife who is basically the opposite of long-suffering Griselda. If her husband says you pronounce a word a certain way, she says it's pronounced differently. If her husband wants to sit down, she wants him to stand up. If her husband says he likes salad, she insists that eating salad will be the death of him. And so on and so forth.

Of course, this starts to present something of a problem. Their marriage (predictably) begins to unravel, but Griselda keeps on using her "techniques" in an attempt to acquire power over her husband. This is a pretty light novel, but I really enjoyed Edgeworth's tongue-in-cheek depiction of marital power struggles. You definitely don't sympathise with Griselda, but she has her moments of clarity, when she loses the obsession with power, and you can see that she really does love her husband.

There is the obligatory virtuous and moral Edgeworth heroine, of course, but she has a fairly minor role here - which is mainly to irritate Griselda. The point, of course, is that the virtuous Emma Granby is able to acquire power over her husband by simply being a loving wife and not badgering him to death or getting strange ideas about female submission into her head.

I enjoy Edgeworth much more when she lightens up, I think!

1 comment:

jenniebee said...

Edgeworth is fun when she's able to let loose and drop the overpowering didacticism. She's doing a triple turn on the old Griselda story in Modern Griselda - Modern Gris (MG) uses Old G's husband's tactics on her own husband, the tactics don't work on him the way they did on Old Griselda, and the foil couple who don't play games with each other and each only want to be good to the other are made happy by it. It's a neat trick.