Tuesday, 24 August 2021

Book Review: The Good Wife’s Guide - Translated by Gina Greco and Christine Rose

Pros: faithful translation that mentions prior work done on the text, lots of textual notes and introductory pieces to help with comprehension, lots of interesting information about life in the middle ages

Cons: medieval writing tends to be dry and I found it hard to read more than a few pages at a time without a break

This is a translation of the French medieval household book Le Ménagier de Paris. It consists of an introduction, which includes background information, what life was like in Paris at the time of it’s writing, and a gloss of The Tale of Griselda. The text itself consists of several parts talking about good conduct (prayer, behaviour, dress, chastity, virtues & vices, obedience to one’s husband, etc), horticulture, choosing servants, hawking, menus, and recipes. There are introductory passages every few sections so you have a good idea of what the book will discuss next, as well as excellent page notes (many of which detail translation decisions) and a very useful glossary of culinary terms to help with the last 2 sections of the book and a bibliography.

The premise of the text is that of an older husband writing a book for his new young wife so that she will be properly trained and able to manage a household for her second husband after the author’s death. The book goes into a fair amount of detail regarding some items (there are a lot of recipes and detailed information on the virtues & vices, breaking down the various ways people sin and how it’s important to confess). There are also some long morality tales about how it’s important to obey one’s husband and be long-suffering, even if your husband tries your patience or tests you.

I found it very interesting what a woman in 14th C Paris was expected to know, even if it’s unknown if the author’s ‘young wife’ actually existed. The cooking section mentioned where to buy certain ingredients and how much they cost. The hawking section was very detailed about how much work was involved, all of which had to be done by the person intending to fly the hawk (so servants couldn’t train the bird for you). The moralistic tales are fairly long winded and get boring after a while. The Tale of Griselda is kind of infuriating as a modern reader and even the author’s response to it implies he doesn’t agree with the husband’s actions, but thought it was worth including anyway.

I wish the author had finished his planned book and included the games and entertainments he’d intended. I think those might have been quite interesting to learn about.

There’s a lot of great information here, but you’ll probably have to read it in small doses to stay engaged. The translators did a fantastic job of keeping the language easy to understand, but medieval texts tend to be on the dry side.

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