I’m reading, off and on,…

I'm reading, off and on, a charming book of essays on reading, Ex Libris by Anne Fadiman. Jed and David, I think you'd both like this book. At one point, Anne describes a list of virtues culled from a nineteenth century instructional book, The Mirror of True Womanhood, written by Father O'Reilly. They were:

  • Discretion
  • Discipline
  • Religious fervor
  • Power to soothe and charm
  • Truthfulness
  • Thrift
  • Avoidance of impure literature, engravings, paintings, and statuary
  • Kindness
  • Cheerfulness
  • Order in the Home
  • Abjuration of fashion
  • Self-control
  • Excellence in needlework
I asked Kevin to rate me this morning, on a scale of 1-10. I feel that he rather slighted my Thriftiness (with only a 3) and Order in the Home (6), but on the other hand, he gave me quite high marks in the categories I cared most about -- Kindness, Truthfulness, Cheerfulness, and the Power to soothe and charm (the last of which makes me feel rather like a maiden attempting to tame a unicorn or some such :-).

I then rated him -- sadly, he didn't do nearly as well as I did, though he did have a few more high scores than I did, he was abysmally low in several categories. Kevin claims, however, that as these are meant to be wifely virtues, they're not really meant for him anyway. Men, apparently, aren't expected to attempt to be any more virtuous than they naturally already are. Hmph.

It might be interesting, putting together a list of what I would actually consider spousely (or partnerly) virtues. I'd keep Kindness and Truthfulness and Cheerfulness, and how could I abandon the Power to soothe and charm? Discretion, Discipline, Self-Control and Thrift all seem rather desirable, if sometimes hard to obtain. And Order in the Home sometimes feels like a losing battle.

The real question is what I'd want to add to the list. Courage. Patience. Rational decision-making skills. A passionate heart. Faith. Trust. The ability to compromise. The sense to know when you shouldn't back down from what you truly desire and/or need. What else?

4 thoughts on “I’m reading, off and on,…”

  1. A few that come to mind:

    Listening – though very much related to many of the others

    Amusement – perhaps not exactly the right term, but what I intend is the ability to make the other person (or perhaps persons) laugh, especially when not in a great mood – i.e. to help take one out of oneself and look at a situation in a new light, at least for a moment
    (perhaps this is sooth and charm?)

    something about “drop everything ness” / attention – i.e. your partner is someone who should be paying attention to you – a simple example, someone who tells you when you have food stuck in your front teeth… (i.e. both pays attention to you, and is willing and able to act on that attention, even if the news is not good)

    neat list indeed.

  2. I love it when you come up with a book that I thought only I and two friends liked. Ex Libris is a fine read (and about an interesting family). I just finished reading Robb Forman Dew’s novel “Fortunate Lives,” a follow up to her “Dale Loves Sophie To Death.” She is a wonderful writer about what it is to be in a family, and especially wonderful in how she depicts the condition of motherhood. I think you would love these books, so I drop a mention. (Beware, “Fortunate Lives” might bring you to tears.)

  3. Credit goes to Shmuel, I think, who gave me the book as a birthday present. I might look up the books you recommended; the title of the second one (which came out first, I gather) is charming.

  4. All your comments about your family make me think you will love Dew’s books, as they are all about the dynamics of family life. She is, I believe, the granddaughter of John Crowe Ransom, so has a distinguished lineage. I am not surprised that Schmuel gave Ex Libris to you. He is such an interesting chap. I got the book from a colleague who would buy it in quantity and sneakily give it to special people.

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