The 3rd of November is National Housewives Day! A day dedicated to women who have dedicated their lives to their family and home. Having come across this holiday I thought I would put together a list of housewives from literature whose story concentrates on their label of being a housewife.
5 – Madam Bovery
Emma Bovary from Gustave Flaubert’s novel Madame Bovery tells the story of a peasant girl who marries an older doctor in the hopes of escaping a dull rural life. She quickly becomes bored with married life leading her to depression. One night she and her husband are invited to a first-class ball and the magic of that night leaves Emma desperate to continue living in that dream world. Emma begins spending money she does not have, in a futile attempt to create the illusion of the life she wants and has an adulteress affair that shocked France when the book was first published. Her pursuit of an exciting life leaves her abandoned by her lover and in so much debt that she chooses to commit suicide. While she slowly dies Emma comes to regret killing herself.
4 – Nella Oortman
Nella Oortman the leading lady of Jessie Burtons’ The Miniaturist.
Sweet Nelly is married off at eighteen to a wealthy Merchant. Though her name is good the family has lost their fortune and this marriage is, therefore, a lifeline. As Nelly navigates married life her husband leaves her a maiden and her sister in law is not the warmest person. Feeling lonely, her husband buys her a wedding gift of a doll’s house of their marital home. Choosing to decorate the house Nelly finds a miniaturist to create furniture and objects for the home. The items which arrive are spectacular in detail but soon it turns far too personal. The miniaturist starts sending items that were not asked for and they allude to secrets as to what is happening in the home. Nelly after learning her husbands dark secret stays by his side and we see through her marriage a girl become a woman
3 – Bertha/Antionette Mason
The ill-fated first Mrs. Rochester from Charlotte Brontes’ Jane Eyre.
Bertha was more of an imprisoned wife rather than volunteering housewive and her depiction in Jane Eyre led to Jean Rhys penning Wide Sargasso Sea, as an attempt to give Bertha a voice. In Wide Sargasso Sea we learn Betha was named Antionette and her childhood was spent isolated in a crumbling family home with a mother who was slowly becoming mad. Her mother remarried and her husband not privy to the extent of her madness restored the family home to its former glory only for it to be burned down. Antionette went to live with her aunt and her cousin introduced her to Mr. Rochester. They married and we learn about their early married days, her name change, the distance that develops between them and the decision to leave for England. Jane Eyre takes over and Bertha has gone mad and is locked up in a tower with a servant to look after her. Mr. Rochester travels the world trying to forget his wife at home. Bertha and Mr Rochesters’ story ends with Bertha causing a fire that destroys Thornfield Hall and taking her own life by jumping from the roof, thus freeing herself.
2 – Scarlett O’Hara
Margret Mitchells’ Gone with the Wind introduced the world to Scarlett O’Hara. A Southern belle with an iron will to survive. Set in the backdrop to the American civil war, Scarlett loses her first husband in the conflict and her next in the fallout afterward as her husband protects her honor. Throughout all this drama Scarlett pines for Ashley Wilkes who is married to her best friend Melanie. But pining for Scarlett is her third husband Rhett Butler who after she is widowed for the second time decides he’s going to have to marrie her himself or wait for her next husband to die before he can have another opportunity. Scarlett is blind to Rhett’s true love for her and to Ashley’s cowardness to tell her he doesn’t love her. In the end, Scarlett sees the light but Rhett in an emotional depression after the death of his beloved daughter wants to be alone. Does Scarlett win his love back? Mitchell, leaves it to our own imagination for the book ends here and she doesn’t write a sequel though others have done so.
1 – Mrs. Bennet
The matriarch of the Bennet family in Jane Austins Pride and Prejudice.
Her feelings are her husband’s greatest companions and her devotion to have her daughter married off and secure are warm and loving, especially during a time when a woman needed a protector. Having had no sons and equipped with the knowledge that her husband and herself are aging finding husbands for her daughters are a pressing priority. Though her hearts in the right place she creates more of an obstacle to husband finding then a help. Throughout the book, Mrs. Bennet provides comic relief as she moves through her emotions and cringeworthy moments but her devotion to family is what makes her take the number one position.