The wife with a talent

I am writing to you about a matter on which I sorely need advice. I am a woman with a talent and it is giving me great trouble.

Before I married, my future husband was proud of it — I compose music and play the I piano — but now it seems to bore him. I don’t believe I neglect my home, but of course, I feel I have a duty towards my God-given talent, and that this comes first. I don’t like to think that my husband is jealous of my gift and of the reputation it wins me, and yet I can see he is not pleased when I spend several hours a day at my practicing, and often he is bored when I talk of my work and my success.

I feel it would be a sin to give up my work, and yet I don’t know how else to bring peace into the family. Won’t you advise me? – Musician

I have seen many cases like yours. Once in a great while, a husband is found who cherishes the same opinion of his wife’s talents that he did when he was only her lover, but he is a rare exception. As a general thing, I am afraid a husband drifts into the mental position of a valet, and his wife ceases to be a heroine to him. You may say this indicates that he has the soul of a valet, and perhaps he does.

All the same, he is unwontedly generous and phenomenally slow of perception if he does not, soon after marriage, reach the point where he recognizes that all glory given to her is in a sense taken from him, and resents it. There cannot be more than one head of the family, and if the wife has a conspicuous talent she is thrust into the position of importance and the husband is a secondary consideration.

Naturally, he does not like it. Even without carrying matters so far as this, the husband is not prone to enjoy the wife’s talent when it is introduced into domestic life. Interesting at first, it quickly develops into a possibility of boredom when it loses its novelty.

Marriage and career - A couple in 1920

Man needs a poultice

More than this, he has a conviction, founded on centuries of tradition and experience, that he and his home and his comfort are the first business of the woman he has married. When he has been working all day and comes in tired at night, his impression is that he should find awaiting him a charming woman, eager to know what he has been doing and how he is feeling, ready to subordinate her individual concerns to his comfort and happiness, not absorbed in her personal pursuits to such an extent that she must force them upon him when he wants to be considered on his own account.

He does not yearn to know how she has progressed with the story she is writing, what difficulties she has met in finishing the portrait she is painting, or the bust she is modeling, bow she has practiced her playing or her singing for so many hours with such and such results. Still less does he desire to be called upon to admire the work of her hands and brain, to listen to her story, to look at her painting or modeling, to submit to her performance of the latest piece of music she has learned or composed.

He is worn out and worried about business, and the thing he needs in a wife is not a stimulant but a poultice. This masculine attitude is naturally intensified if the wife’s attention to the workings of her talent have interfered with her care for her husband’s comfort.

With all the sympathy that one woman can feel for another, there is not a wife among us who will not admit that it is pretty hard on a man to come home from work to an ill-kept house which has been neglected while the should-have-been housekeeper has been writing, or painting, or sculpting or playing, or singing.

I think you will all agree with me in the statement that if she couldn’t look after her husband’s well-being because of her devotion to her art or craft, she would have done better to remain single.

… If your ability is something that will bring in money. you cannot afford to let it lie idle. In these days of quickly made and quickly lost fortunes, it is not uncommon to see the woman who started married life as a cherished and well cared for wife slip later into the position of breadwinner for the family. Your husband may object to your cultivating your talent now and be quite willing further on in life to accord you the privilege of supporting him by the exercise of that same talent.

I can hardly advise you to point out this possibility to him when he laments or objurgates your gift; still less can I counsel you to remind him of it if the hard days should come. None the less, you do well to keep the contingency in mind, and if you have a talent which possesses commercial value, don’t let it become rusty from disuse.

Marriage vs career Advice to the wife with a talent (1913)

Details may bore him

Even if your husband should not lose his moneymaking capabilities, I have never found that a little extra cash comes amiss when the boys and girls are growing up and wish small luxuries and diversions that the stated income of the head of the house may not suffice to supply.

If you are skilled with your pen or your brush, or as a musician, and can make a profit from your original productions in any of these lines or by giving lessons in them, be thankful for the faculty, and do not let your gratitude sweep away your reticence and lead you to chatter about your gift and its workings. For it is ten to one that your husband will not wish to be told of those details of your work which you find absorbing. They are likely to weary him, and whatever else you do with your talent, don’t bore your husband with it.

You may love to hear all he has to tell of his pursuits, but that does not mean that he will be thrilled by yours. Bear this in mind and spare him. Bring to the work which falls to your lot a large portion of patience, a determination that your husband, your home, and your children shall never suffer for lack of attention because God has honored you with a gift which should be a joy to you and a blessing to others. Your lot will be less easy than if you had nothing to call you from your duties as a wife, mother, and housekeeper, but the talent has its compensations in a joy unknown to those who lack it.

Let this joy offset the annoyances and inspire you to make of yourself something worthy your gift, and which will commend it to others besides yourself.


About this story

Source publication: The Washington Herald

Source publication date: 16 November 1913

Notes: Common Sense in the Home (Column)

Filed under: 1910s, Culture & lifestyle, Family & parenting, Featured, Love & marriage, Newspapers

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