Horrible marriage circa 1929.

Posted in blog post on May 24th, 2009 by Merrill Markoe
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I have been reading a lot of womens magazines from the ’20s and ’30s. They are mainly filled with the most hilarious kind of grandiose over views of domestic life. Everything was happy and under control, or on its way to both. And then I came upon this one piece in an April 1929 edition of Womashape-shiftersn’s Home Companion entitled “I Married the Wrong Man” that kind of took my breath away , maybe because I wasn’t expecting such a  relentlessly grim treatment of  marital bliss in the midst of a magazine that mainly shows women throwing on “a smart little frock” and dashing off to the market to find something “splendidly nourishing” that will “please and satisfy the whole family.” Here is a bit of it:

“Since the first emotional excitement of marriage was over and the star dust had been washed from my eyes with secret tears there has never been a day when I have longed for my husband’s presence. Never an hour when my heart cried for him, never a moment, in fact, when had we been suddenly released from each other and he had been married to my next door neighbor I should ever have cared to say more than a casual “Good morning” to him across the intervening hedge.  How I hungered for caresses that were not revolting. How I sickened for the satisfying companionship of a true mate.The conflict between my emotions and my ideals were so terrific, my health began to suffer.There were times as we sat at meals or read beside the library table after the baby was in bed when it seemed incredible to me that any human being could be in the same room with me and remain unconscious of the violence of my emotions.”

Wow. Having your caresses characterized as “revolting” is a little bit harsh.  This was when the national divorce rate seems to have been floating around the 15% mark. She goes on.
“Time was when I imagined myself in a unique position. But my mature opinion is that there are countless men and women who are disguising almost unbearable unhappiness beneath smiles that would put many a professional actor to shame.”

The piece continues for another, oh, 5700 words during which I got the feeling that maybe during those sickened, seething mealtimes and those  library reading periods full of repressed violence, that revolting husband of her’s might just have had just a teensy inkling of the way she felt. (Also that she must have been getting paid by the word.) Small wonder that the article is written without a by-line.

And where is she going with all this? Well, she does have a revelation in the last two paragraphs. But she isn’t headed to a tropical wonderland of giddy rediscovered romance or personal empowerment like she would be if she had written about her miserable fraudulent marriage to a man who sickened her for the women of 2009 . Here is where she winds up:

“My head to be sure is bloody and unlike the noble poets bowed. But my soul, thank heaven, has been mine to do with as I chose. And my soul and I have had some rare experiences during these strenuous years of glorified make believe. For every heart ache we’ve endured, every tear we’ve shed, every renunciation and unfulfilment that has been our portion, we’ve demanded big dividends and got them”. And what are those dividends, you may wonder. ” In the deepest pocket of our consciousness we carry the concealed making of a few more bonfires:  a bran cookie or two, an assortment of baubles guaranteed to make us stop our crying and a frayed and faded sense of humor. We carry these precisely as Grandmother carried her peppermint lozenges. ”

That woman must have had a hell of a recipe for bran cookies. Too bad she didn’t include it. I’d also like to know where I can buy a couple of packs of those lozenges.

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