The Modern Griselda, by Maria Edgeworth

Chapter 3.

“Self-valuing Fancy, highly-crested Pride,

Strong sovereign Will, and some desire to chide.”

“There are,” says Dr. Johnson, “a thousand familiar disputes which reason can never decide; questions that elude investigation, and make logic ridiculous — cases where something must be done, and where little can be said. — Wretched would be the pair above all names of wretchedness who should be doomed to adjust by reason every morning all the detail of a domestic day.”

Our heroine made a double advantage of this passage: for she regularly reasoned where logic was ridiculous, and could not be prevailed upon to listen to reason when it might have been useful. — She substituted her will most frequently for arguments, and often opposed it to her husband’s, in order to give him the merit of sacrificing his wishes. When he wanted to read, she suddenly wished to walk; when he wished to walk, she was immersed in her studies. When he was busy, she was talkative; when he was eager to hear her converse, she was inclined to be silent. The company that he liked, she disliked; the public amusements that she most frequented were those of which he least approved. This species of wilfulness was the strongest proof of her solicitude about his good opinion. — She could not bear, she said, that he should consider her as a child, who was not able to govern herself. She could not believe that a man had confidence in her unless he proved it by leaving her at liberty to decide and act for herself.

Sometimes she receded, sometimes she advanced in her claims; but without marking the daily ebbs and flows of her humour, it is sufficient to observe, that it continually encroached upon her husband’s indulgence. She soon insisted upon being consulted, that is, obeyed, in affairs which did not immediately come under the cognizance of her sex — politics inclusive. This apparently exorbitant love of power was veiled under the most affectionate humility.

“Oh, my love! I know you despise my abilities; you think these things above the comprehension of poor women. I know I am but your plaything after all: you cannot consider me for a moment as your equal or your friend — I see that! — You talk of these things to your friend Mr. Granby — I am not worthy to hear them. — Well, I am sure I have no ambition, except to possess the confidence of the man I love.”

The lady forgot that she had, upon a former occasion, considered a profession of esteem from her husband as an insult, and that, according to her definition of true love, esteem was incompatible with its existence.

Tacitus remarks, that it is common with princes to will contradictories; in this characteristic they have the honour to resemble some of the fair sex, as well as all spoiled children. Having every feasible wish gratified, they are obliged to wish for what is impossible, for want of something to desire or to do: they are compelled to cry for the moon, or for new worlds to conquer. — Our heroine having now attained the summit of human glory and happiness, and feeling almost as much ennui as was expressed by the conqueror of the world, yawned one morning, as she sat tête-à-tête with her husband, and said —

“I wish I knew what was the matter with me this morning. — Why do you keep the newspaper all to yourself, my dear?”

“Here it is for you, my dear: I have finished it.”

“I humbly thank you for giving it to me when you have done with it — I hate stale news. — Is there any thing in the paper? for I cannot be at the trouble of hunting it.”

“Yes, my dear, there are the marriages of two of our friends —”

“Who? Who?”

“Your friend the Widow Nettleby, to her cousin John Nettleby.”

“Mrs. Nettleby! Lord! but why did you tell me?”

“Because you asked me, my dear.”

“Oh! but it is a hundred times pleasanter to read the paragraph one’s self: one loses all the pleasure of the surprise by being told. — Well! whose was the other marriage?”

“Oh! my dear, I will not tell you — I will leave you the pleasure of the surprise.”

“But you see I cannot guess it. — How provoking you are, my dear! Do pray tell it me.”

“Our friend Mr. Granby.”

“Mr. Granby! — Dear! Why did not you make me guess? I should have guessed him directly: but why do you call him our friend? I am sure he is no friend of mine, nor ever was; I took an aversion to him, as you may remember, the very first day I saw him: I am sure he is no friend of mine.”

“I am sorry for it, my dear; but I hope you will go and see Mrs. Granby?”

“Not I, indeed, my dear. — Who was she?”

“Miss Cooke.”

“Cooke! — but there are so many Cookes. — Can’t you distinguish her any way? — Has she no Christian name?”

“Emma, I think — yes, Emma.”

“Emma Cooke! — No; it cannot be my friend Emma Cooke — for I am sure she was cut out for an old maid.”

“This lady seems to me to be cut out for a good wife.”

“May be so — I am sure I’ll never go to see her — Pray, my dear, how came you to see so much of her?”

“I have seen very little of her, my dear: I only saw her two or three times before she was married.”

“Then, my dear, how could you decide that she is cut out for a good wife? — I am sure you could not judge of her by seeing her only two or three times, and before she was married.”

“Indeed, my love, that is a very just observation.”

“I understand that compliment perfectly, and thank you for it, my dear. — I must own I can bear any thing better than irony.”

“Irony! my dear; I was perfectly in earnest.”

“Yes, yes; in earnest — so I perceive — I may naturally be dull of apprehension, but my feelings are quick enough: I comprehend you too well. Yes — it is impossible to judge of a woman before marriage, or to guess what sort of a wife she will make. I presume you speak from experience; you have been disappointed yourself, and repent your choice.”

“My dear, what did I say that was like this? Upon my word I meant no such thing; I really was not thinking of you in the least.”

“No — you never think of me now: I can easily believe that you were not thinking of me in the least.”

“But I said that only to prove to you that I could not be thinking ill of you, my dear.”

“But I would rather that you thought ill of me than that you did not think of me at all.”

“Well, my dear,” said her husband, laughing, “I will even think ill of you, if that will please you.”

“Do you laugh at me?” cried she, bursting into tears. “When it comes to this, I am wretched indeed! Never man laughed at the woman he loved! As long as you had the slightest remains of love for me, you could not make me an object of derision: ridicule and love are incompatible, absolutely incompatible. Well, I have done my best, my very best, to make you happy, but in vain. I see I am not cut out to be a good wife. Happy, happy Mrs. Granby!”

“Happy I hope sincerely that she will be with my friend; but my happiness must depend on you, my love; so, for my sake, if not for your own, be composed, and do not torment yourself with such fancies.”

“I do wonder,” cried our heroine, starting from her seat, “whether this Mrs. Granby is really that Miss Emma Cooke. I’ll go and see her directly; see her I must.”

“I am heartily glad of it, my dear; for I am sure a visit to his wife will give my friend Granby real pleasure.”

“I promise you, my dear, I do not go to give him pleasure, or you either; but to satisfy my own —curiosity.”

The rudeness of this speech would have been intolerable to her husband if it had not been for a certain hesitation in the emphasis with which she pronounced the word curiosity, which left him in doubt as to her real motive.

Jealousy is sometimes thought to be a proof of love; and, in this point of view, must not all its caprices, absurdities, and extravagances, be graceful, amiable, and gratifying?

A few days after Griselda had satisfied her curiosity, she thus, in the presence of her husband, began to vent her spleen:

“For Heaven’s sake, dear Mrs. Nettleby,” cried she, addressing herself to the new-married widow, who came to return her wedding visit —“for pity’s sake, dear Mrs. Nettleby, can you or any body else tell me what possessed Mr. Granby to marry Emma Cooke?”

“I am sure I cannot tell, for I have not seen her yet.”

“You will be less able to tell after you have seen her, and still less after you have heard her.”

“What, then, she is neither a wit nor a beauty! I’m quite surprised at that; for I thought, to be sure, Mr. Granby, who is such a judge and such a critic, and so nice about female manners, would not have been content without something very extraordinary.”

“Nothing can be more ordinary.”

“Astonishing! but I am quite tired of being astonished at marriages! One sees such strange matches every day, I am resolved never to be surprised at any thing: who can, that lives in the world? But really now I am surprised at Mr. Granby. What! is she nothing?”

“Nothing — absolutely nothing; a cipher; a nonentity.”

“Now really? you do not tell me so,” said Mrs. Nettleby. “Well, I am so disappointed; for I always resolved to take example by Mr. Granby’s wife.”

“I would rather that she should take warning by me,” said Griselda, laughing. “But to be candid, I must tell you that to some people’s taste she is a pattern wife — a perfect Grizzle. She and I should have changed names — or characters. Which, my dear?” cried she, appealing to her husband.

“Not names, my dear,” answered he.

The conversation might here have ended happily, but unluckily our heroine could not be easily satisfied before Mrs. Nettleby, to whom she was proud of showing her conjugal ascendancy.

“My dear,” said she to her husband, “a-propos to pattern wives: you have read Chaucer’s Tales. Do you seriously like or dislike the real, original, old Griselda?”

“It is so long since I have seen her that I cannot tell,” replied he.

“Then, my dear, you must read the story over again, and tell me without evasion.”

“And if he could read it before Mrs. Granby and me, what a compliment that would be to one bride,” added the malicious Mrs. Nettleby, “and what a lesson for another!”

“Oh, it must be so! it must be so!” cried Griselda. “I will ask her here on purpose to a reading party; and you, my dear Mrs. Nettleby, will come for your lesson. You, my love, who read so well — and who, I am sure, will be delighted to pay a compliment to your favourite, Mrs. Granby — you will read, and I will — weep. On what day shall it be? Let me see: Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday, I’m engaged: but Sunday is only a party at home; I can put that off:— then Sunday let it be.”

“Sunday, I am unluckily engaged, my dear,” said her husband.

“Engaged? Oh, nonsense! You have no engagements of any consequence: and when I put off my party on purpose to have the pleasure of hearing you read, oblige me, my love, for once.”

“My love, to oblige you, I will do any thing.”

Griselda cast a triumphant glance at Mrs. Nettleby, which said as plainly as a look could say, “You see how I rule him!”

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:54