Instructions on How to be a True Woman
Dearest Lady of the Castle,
While on my pilgrimage to the Canterbury Cathedral, I, the Wife of Bath, stumbled upon the writings of Marie de France, and happened to peruse through your story. Although we have never met, I feel as though I know you pretty well. You’re a young, beautiful woman, yet you are incredibly stupid and feeble. Take no offense dear! It is simply the truth. I have read of your marital situation, of how your husband in his jealously locks you up day and night in the recesses of your castle. But I also have found that you do nothing to get yourself out of that situation, rather, you remain passive and let your old husband take charge of you. I am sorry for this abuse your marriage has caused, but I can only shake my head at you in vain. In all honestly, the only thing I can think to ask is what type of woman are you? But do not worry dear, I already know the answer. You are like the young me, that is, before I became an “expert wife,” timid, shy, following your husband’s orders, not realizing your full potential as a woman (Chaucer 263).
See, us women were made to rule over our husbands; it’s true! We have a natural wit about us that is unmatched by any man, “No one can be so bold—I mean no man—at lies and swearing as a woman can” (Chaucer 264). We have the upper hand in relationships because we can get the men to do whatever we want. In fact, I coerced my husbands into giving me their land and their money. How you ask? By boycotting sex. Honestly think about it, why do men marry us? Because they want sex. Why do we marry them? Because we want money. It’s a fair trade off, is it not? Now trying to get husbands to concede the power of the relationship to us is where the innate ability of lying comes in to play. For it is true that “a knowing wife if she is worth her salt, can always prove her husband is at fault” (Chaucer 264). It is our potential and purpose as women to influence and control our husbands. Why else would God grant us this gift of manipulating the truth? It does not matter how jealous your husband is or how tightly he locks you up, I can teach you tricks for both of those, the fact of the matter is that you need to be a woman and stand up for yourself!
The first thing I took note of while reading your story is that your husband exudes good qualities; he’s both old and rich. Why are you not taking advantage of that? Rich, old men are the easiest to coerce, which is why I consider them my ‘good husbands.’ Ah, I remember them well; my three good husbands treated me very fair. They were apt listeners, and conceded their lands and treasures to me before I gave them any marital bliss. I even got them to buy me anything I wanted! Yes, that’s how good I am at my trade. But, there would come a time when my dear husbands would question my ultimatum of treasures before sex, often glowering at me as I refused to cater to their loins. I would respond to their annoying inquires, “One of us must be master, man or wife, and since a man’s more reasonable, he should be the patient one, you must agree” (Chaucer 270). Not only does this statement play with his ego by inadvertently complementing him, it also downplays us women by making it seem like we’re passionate and only controlled by our emotions. Using the word “responsible” makes men feel like they are still the ones in charge because by being “responsible” they are giving up their position of power for us, the lesser more primal human beings. Please take notes dear Lady! Do not let my words go unnoticed; you are lucky to learn such remarkable advice!
While sitting around the campfire with the others on the pilgrimage, I relayed the story of my marriages, addressing envious husbands who neglected me from roaming of my own accord, while at the same time believing that they can still get whatever they wanted from me! Who could think such a thing? Only men for sure could be so dimwitted. While reading your story, I noticed that you were a victim of the same neglect as I. With sorrow, I read of the place in which you are kept, “The grove beneath the tower was enclosed all around with walls of green marble, very high and thick. There was only one entrance, and it was guarded day and night” (France 165). My poor dear! Let me take you under my wing and reveal the way out of this abuse! To my husbands who treated neglected me in the same manner as you I said, “It’s just as much my property as yours. Do you want to make an idiot of your wife?” If we are their wives, we are entitled to their property, correct? Meaning, that can traverse OUR land as much as we women want! If men keep us locked inside, it makes the community think we have something wrong with us. It would cause many to speculate why we are never seen; “I bet she’s ugly” one would say while others, “She must be mental for him to keep her locked inside like that.” By the good graces of God I do not want strangers thinking that I am ugly! What a travesty it would be! The same goes for you as well! You cannot let your husband ruin your image by locking you inside all the time. You need to stand up to him and say, as I have said to my husbands, “Now, by the Lord that gave me soul and life, you shan’t have both, you can’t be such a noddy as think to keep my goods and have my body!” As we know, men infinitely want our bodies. It is bred in them to uncannily desire us. They are not able to refrain from us and therefore will concede to our wishes if it means that they will get some.
Following this idea, you should bring up that “No empty-handed man can lure a bird;” basically, that they must give you something in return for sex (Chaucer 269). Since your man will be dumb founded by the first sentence, of not being able to have your body, it is important that you follow with the idea that he must give something first, since at this point he will be highly attentive to your words in fear that he will never be satisfied again. If you follow my instructions, you will have your husband crawling at your feet in no time, as I had mine “eating from my hand,” which will likely be a new exciting experience for you (264). Do not fret dear, no thanks is needed yet. I still have much more to cover with you!
Another issue I would like to draw attention to is how you husband keeps watch over you at all times. Although your husband does not spy directly on you, he still has minions, like your priest, set in place that fulfill that duty. I experienced this same problem with my husbands as well; in my anger at this tactic, I developed an idea to rid them of their mistrust. What you have to do, is make your husband feel like he is being ridiculous; tell him, as I told my over-protective husbands, “Silly old fool! You and your private spies! Go on, beg Argus with his hundred eyes to be my bodyguard, that’s better still! (Chaucer 268). Men hate feeling like they are stupid or incompetent, which is why I instructed you to call your husband ‘reasonable’ in the strategy to gain sovereignty. By calling him out as being ridiculous, he will immediately try to change his ways so that he will not humiliate himself again. Also, by this statement, you are displaying an intelligence and logic that he cannot argue against. Men are simply irritating! They should tell their wives “‘Go where you please, dear wife,’” but no, they refuse to trust us, feeling that we will get in to some misdeed (Chaucer 267). Yet they feel as though they can return home after a long journey, “drunken as a mouse” and tell us that we are untrustworthy (Chaucer 265). Hmph! It makes me sick that men would try to use such a ploy on us witty, knowledgeable women! We cannot bear to have our husbands watching over our shoulders at all times. We are women! We need our own time and space; “We like to be at large”! (Chaucer 267).
Also, I think it is important to bring up that your husband is most likely cheating on you. Yes, yes, you may think it is highly unlikely, but my dear, trust the Wife of Bath’s judgment! As we all know, and as I say to the pilgrims sitting around the fire with me, “A lecherous mouth begets a lecherous tail” (Chaucer 271). The reason your husband locks you up in the castle is because he is extremely jealous and fearful that you will be unfaithful, yet you have never even
considered cheating on him, correct? Also, as I can tell from your story, you have yet to do anything that would have caused suspicion. So why would your husband think that you are cheating? Yes, you say that it is due to the “perversity of age,” but shut your mouth! (France 165). Stop giving excuses for his peculiar behavior. Perhaps, the reason he accuses you of cheating is because he has a guilty conscience. Think that aspect over for a second and you will realize that my point is valid. If he has no reason to accuse you of cheating, then where did the idea come from: his own actions.
Dear Lady, you cannot stand for this! You have been nothing but a good wife to your husband! You have treated him fair, and even, most regrettably, have been completely submissive to him! However, I do know a way to fix this situation. You need to beat him at his own game. Fight fire with fire. You need to (prepare for this!) cheat on him. Do not immediately reject this idea! What I am writing is logical and sound! I remember when I first cheated, how splendid it was! To this day it still “warms the cockles of my heart!” (Chaucer 271). Oh how it has done me good to have tasted the forbidden fruit (Chaucer 271). Now Lady, I know this seems a bit contradictory, but he IS the one who accused you and put the thought into your head in the first place. And besides, it’s not like he can keep it up any way, am I right? He is too old to give you any pleasure. Trust me, I know your situation well. Ah, my poor husbands and how I worked them at night… it’s a surprise they lived as long as they did (Chaucer 264). But anyways dear Lady, please consider this idea! I know what I am talking about; I have been in your shoes before. I am trying to save you from despair, do not be stubborn and ignore this advice I have given you!
On a final note dear, you must know that we have natural wit about us. We women can manipulate the truth, much like I did to my poor, dear husbands, because “lies, tears and spinning are the things God gives by nature to a woman” (Chaucer 269). We cannot help but entangle our men in love and lies; it is the only way to get what we want! They won’t listen to us otherwise! You and I know well of that. So ultimately, if we act upon our natural tendencies to lie and connive, we can at least boast that in the end we always got what we wanted. You need to be bold! Don’t let your husband who locks you up all day, only summoning you for sex, control you! Act on your nature! Lie to him, cheat on him! Show him who is boss and who really runs your relationship! Because, on a harsher note, if you stay complacent in this torment, you will surely live out the rest of your meager existence in this way. You’re a woman for Christ’s sake! It’s about time you started acting like it!
Upon my next letter I hope to see you in better shape! Good luck!
The Wife of Bath
Upon the publication of this letter, the Lady of the Castle, who had been missing for many weeks, has been discovered in the nation of Brittany, living with the noble knight Guigemar. Both appear to be happy and well.