Book Review - Good Wives

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In her novel Good Wives Laurel Thatcher Ulrich explores the roles women played in northern New England throughout the 17th and 18th centuries. In her exploration she describes both the idealized and realized roles that were filled by New England women. Ulrich categorizes the books into three parts, each part named for a biblical female who represents traits that aligned with New England expectations for women. Ulrich emphasizes that women were expected to fill many roles at once, “A married woman in early New England was simultaneously a housewife, a deputy husband, a consort, a mother, a mistress, a neighbor, and a Christian. On the war-torn frontier she might also become a heroine” (pg 9). Ulrich maintained the stance that none of these roles could occur in isolation and dedicated the remainder of Good Wives to the study of how those many roles would be fulfilled. In part one, titled Bathsheba, Ulrich discusses how women fulfilled their role as a housewife. Bethseba is described as “a willing servant to her family… In doing so, she earns the devotion of her children, the praise of her husband, and the commendation of God” (pg 14). A wife would only be considered a good wife if she was able to perform her household duties, a seventeenth century writer wrote that “a woman who was ‘utterly ignorant’ of cookery could ‘then but perform half her vow; for she may love and obey, but she cannot cherish, serve, and keep him with that true duty which is ever expected’” (pg 20). In unfolding the roles of a good house wife, Ulrich allows the reader to be introduced to Beatrice Plummer, Hannah Grafton, and Magdalen Wear – three women living in three distinct households, but all are striving to fit the ideals molded to them. The explorati... ... middle of paper ... ...y uses anecdotes and stories of women in the 17th and 18th centuries to provide evidence to the reader and demonstrate the roles women filled and how they filled those roles. Furthermore, she illustrates the individuality in each woman’s story. Although in several of the stories the women may be filling the same roles, the uniqueness of the situation varies from woman to woman. Ulrich’s use of period stories helps add to the credibility of the arguments she makes. She makes the reader feel the weight of responsibility on the shoulders of colonial New England women. A sense of appreciation is gained by the reader for the sheer number of roles fulfilled by the women of New England. In addition, Ulrich’s real life accounts also give valuable insight to life as it was during this time period in American history and the silent heroes behind it – the wives of New England.
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