April 13, 2011


I wrote in an earlier blog post(blog: 3/30/2011) that the course of artistic history might have taken a different turn if women had put their art before maintaining their households.  Recently, I read the story of one woman who took self sacrifice to an absurd degree, making nurturing an instrument of her personal withering. The writer is Anne Roiphe. In her new book, “Art and Madness: A Memoir of Love Without Reason,” she reveals the tale of her complete submission to the dream of her husband, a man who, when they married, was determined to kill himself if he was not as famous as Keats by the age of 26.

Her dedication to his cause was so extreme that I found myself blinking in disbelief. Here was a female — the sole support of the family — who dedicated each evening to transcribing her husband’s scribblings while he went off carousing… a reward for his hard work. Needless to say, in time, her sacrifice rankled and at a social gathering one night, she found herself in the arms of another man. Did her husband care? Not at all. He was across the room rhapsodizing on his new play.

(courtesy: BingImages)

Ironically, infidelity did nothing to destroy the marriage. Artistic failure did. When her spouse’s play appeared on Broadway, it was crucified by every critic in New York. Blaming his wife for his failure, the husband packed his bags — her bags, actually – and left. “I learned then,” Roiphe writes, “that muses can be fired or dismissed… “(“Vogue”, March 2011, pg. 306).

The author’s story interested me because the plot of my second novel, “Gothic Spring” turns on this question of wifely submission. Mrs. Flemming, the vicar’s spouse, tries to curb the rebellious nature of her husband’s gifted pupil. At every opportunity she instructs the girl on the virtue of total surrender to a man’s career. Her reward is to die young from unnatural causes.

Fortunately, for Roiphe, her story ends happily. She became a writer and a successful one. Her former husband never fulfilled his threat to abandon his life and has found new muse.