Last Christmas, for reasons unknown, my generous wife presented me with a tiny book entitled “Don’ts for Husbands.” You can see by the image here that it is not only small, but rather plain and rather old. Published in London in 1913, it was written by Blanche Ebbutt, a woman with a chip on her shoulder, apparently. Late Edwardian London must have been a dull time in Jolly Ole England if this primer is intended as a guide. Downton Abbey fans reading this will imagine white tie’d gentry when, more accurately, this easily lost handbook is better suited to the middle classes of the day; though even that crowd tended to live like erect buffoons if the images conjured by the book are accurate.
This regrettable volume is 100 years old now and I have take a moment to compare the advice provide back-in-the-day with what would be more modern guidance, if anyone cared about manners and such in the 21st Century. Herewith, I shall lay out just a few of the Don’ts as outlined and a modern day equivalent:
Don’ts for Husbands, 1913: Don’t sit down to breakfast in your shirt-sleeves in hot weather on the ground that ‘only your wife’ is present. She is a woman like any other woman. The courtesies you give to womankind are her due, and she will appreciate them.
Don’ts for Husbands, 2013: Don’t sit down to breakfast. Get your own damn breakfast. Take the kids to school and get your arse to work. Little Robin has cheerleading practice again this afternoon and if you forget to pick her up again DFCS will be bangin’ on your door.
DFH, 1913: Don’t make a fuss when your wife has ‘unattached’ women friends to be seen home at night.
DFH, 2013: Don’t you dare! Keep your hands and your filthy thoughts to yourself when your wife asks you to drive a drunken girlfriend home. I mean it!
DFH, 1913: Don’t delegate the carving to your wife on the plea that you ‘can’t’ carve. You should be ashamed that you can’t do a little thing like that as well as a woman can. It is just laziness on your part. Besides, a man ought to take the head of his own table.
DFH, 2013: Don’t delegate the reservation-making to your wife on the plea that you ‘can’t’ use a telephone. You will end up dining at that quiche place you hate when the Pasta Barn would be cheaper anyway. Your laziness will leave you hungry.
Let me stop right here for a moment. What’s gotten into the knickers of Ms. Ebbutt our author? She sounds like a sad spinster to me. I’ve Googled the old hag and come up empty. Either she’s fictitious or gave up writing when the men folk of London used her likeness for ashtrays. I’ve got a feeling she died a lonely soul…. If so, we now know why. Let’s press on….
Don’ts for Husbands, 1913: Don’t scowl or look severe. Cultivate a pleasant expression even if Nature hasn’t blessed you with one.
Don’ts for Husbands, 2013: Don’t yell at her all the time. Take a minute to enjoy a beer and the ballgame. Yell at your wife during the commercials. If she’s done nothing wrong, make something up.
DFH, 1913: Don’t make up your mind to a mother-in-law difficulty. If you take her the right way, you will probably find your mother-in-law not only a charming woman, but one of your best friends.
DFH, 2013: Don’t be around the house when the old battleaxe shows up. She’ll want to be your friend and then ruin your life. This one is serious.
DFH, 1913: Don’t persist in wearing that very disreputable coat when some rather ‘starchy’ people are coming to tea.
DFH, 2013: Don’t wear your same jeans to rotate your tires as you do to host a cookout. Oh, never mind, it’s useless telling you anything. You never listen to anybody!
I’ll stop here ‘cause I fear backlash. One hundred years is not that long in the span of human existence but it appears forever ago when one looks at the manners and mores of both periods. My readers can make their own conclusions as to which era is better. I’m off to get my wife some flowers.