Today I like: My husband. This post is reminding me of how fortunate I am.
Not so much: Ridiculously expensive high-tech minivan tires
The ring is on my hand,
And the wreath is on my brow;
Satin and jewels grand
Are all at my command,
And I am happy now.
–Excerpt from Bridal Ballad by Edgar Allan Poe (1837)
In The Cracked Slipper I examine a fairytale marriage within the strict social confines of a pre-industrial, patriarchal society. When asked, I describe it as pseudo-renaissance, with Regency mannerisms. So, somewhere in the realm of 16th to 19th century Europe (add talking parrots and unicorns, remove men in wigs). As I’ve said before, I love historical fiction. I also believe in magic and have a background in Women’s Studies. I wanted to think about Cinderella in the same way I’ve thought about Anne Boleyn, Marie Antoinette and the Duchess of Devonshire.
How did these women feel about their lack of choices? Did they despair, or were the expectations set before them so ingrained as to be unquestionable? With marriage the one card in play, did it ever meet expectations?
In the days when that storied institution summed up all one’s hopes and dreams, I can only imagine a lot of very disappointed ladies. Marriages to men they hardly knew. Men who turned out to be too old, too drunk, too mean. Men who ignored them or beat them silly or slept with the kitchenmaid. The ring is on my hand…and I am happy now.
What did they do with their sadness? Not much. There was nothing to be done. I’m sure most of them prayed and did what was expected of them. I want to know how they felt about it all. Could Anne Boleyn have fathomed that the man who turned the world on its head out of love for her would kill her when she failed to deliver the much-desired male heir? I can’t ask Anne, but I can create a fairytale heroine beset with many of the above mentioned difficulties. I can get inside her head and live her hopes and frustration with her.
Women today don’t have to rely on love and marriage for our happiness, but that doesn’t mean some don’t anyway. Some still marry for financial security or emotional security. Some marry their first love, only to realize ten years later they should have shopped around a bit. On the other hand, everyone has a friend who “settled” because it seemed like it was time. We let our parents push us toward suitable partners. A some point we’ve all ignored obvious incompatibilities…convinced ourselves that if we just stick it out, he’ll change. Domestic violence still plagues us. We carry the ghosts of our early years into our adult relationships.
The difference between us and them (meaning Anne, Georgiana and my own Cinderella, Eleanor) is that for the most part we make our own decisions, we live with them and learn from them, and we can get out. We can start over if we make a mistake. So in the end, I love my imaginary world, but I’m glad I don’t live in it.