Maria Edgeworth's take on the famous folklore stories about the patient and submissive Griselda, The Modern Griselda (1804), is quite hilarious. It's about a wife who is basically the opposite of long-suffering Griselda. If her husband says you pronounce a word a certain way, she says it's pronounced differently. If her husband wants to sit down, she wants him to stand up. If her husband says he likes salad, she insists that eating salad will be the death of him. And so on and so forth.The Modern Griselda is the exact opposite of the ancient one. Possessed of youth, beauty, wit, and every fashionable accomplishment, she imagines herself entitled to rule with absolute command a husband who adores her. At first her imperious disposition only manifests itself in a restless and captious fear of not being sufficiently beloved; in a jealousy of every person and thing capable of diverting, for a moment, the attention of her husband, or affording him the slightest pleasure of which she is not the source.Maria Edgeworth (1768 –1849) was a prolific Anglo-Irish writer of adults' and children's literature. She was one of the first realist writers in children's literature and was a significant figure in the evolution of the novel in Europe. She held advanced views, for a woman of her time, on estate management, politics and education, and corresponded with some of the leading literary and economic writers, including Sir Walter Scott and David Ricardo.
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By Maria Edgeworth
“And since in man right reason bears the sway,
Let that frail thing, weak woman, have her way.”
“Blest as th’immortal gods is he,
The youth who fondly sits by thee,
Who sees and hears thee all the while,
Softly speak and sweetly smile.”
“Is not this ode set to music, my dear Griselda?” said the happy bridegroom to his bride.
“Yes, surely, my dear: did you never hear it?”
“Never; and I am glad of it, for I shall have the pleasure of hearing it for the first time from you, my love: will you be so kind as to play it for me?”
“Most willingly,” said Griselda, with an enchanting smile; “but I am afraid that I shall not be able to do it justice,” added she, as she sat down to her harp, and threw her white arm across the chords.
“Charming! Thank you, my love,” said the bridegroom, who had listened with enthusiastic devotion. —“Will you let me hear it once more?”
The complaisant bride repeated the strain.
“Thank you, my dear love,” repeated her husband. This time he omitted the word “charming”— she missed it, and, pouting prettily, said,
“I never can play any thing so well the second time as the first.”— She paused: but as no compliment ensued, she continued, in a more pettish tone, “And for that reason, I do hate to be made to play any thing twice over.”
“I did not know that, my dearest love, or I would not have asked you to do it; but I am the more obliged to you for your ready compliance.”
“Obliged! — Oh, my dear, I am sure you could not be the least obliged to me, for I know I played it horridly: I hate flattery.”
“I am convinced of that, my dear, and therefore I never flatter: you know I did not say that you played as well the last time as the first, did I?”
“No, I did not say you did,” cried Griselda, and her colour rose as she spoke: she tuned her harp with some precipitation —“This harp is terribly out of tune.”
“Is it? I did not perceive it.”
“Did not you, indeed? I am sorry for that.”
“Why so, my dear?”
“Because, my dear, I own that I would rather have had the blame thrown on my harp than upon myself.”
“Blame? my love! — But I threw no blame either on you or your harp. I cannot recollect saying even a syllable that implied blame.”
“No, my dear, you did not say a syllable; but in some cases the silence of those we love is the worst, the most mortifying species of blame.”
The tears came into Griselda’s beautiful eyes.
“My sweet love,” said he, “how can you let such a trifle affect you so much?”
“Nothing is a trifle to me which concerns those I love,” said Griselda. — Her husband kissed away the pearly drops which rolled over her vermeil-tinctured cheeks. “My love,” said he, “this is having too much sensibility.”
“Yes, I own I have too much sensibility,” said she, “too much — a great deal too much, for my own happiness. — Nothing ever can be a trifle to me which marks the decline of the affection of those who are most dear to me.”
The tenderest protestations of undiminished and unalterable affection could not for some time reassure this timid sensibility: but at length the lady suffered herself to be comforted, and with a languid smile said, that she hoped she was mistaken — that her fears were perhaps unreasonable — that she prayed to Heaven they might in future prove groundless.
A few weeks afterwards her husband unexpectedly met with Mr. Granby, a friend, of whose company he was particularly fond: he invited him home to dinner, and was talking over past times in all the gaiety and innocence of his heart, when suddenly his wife rose and left the room. — As her absence appeared to him long, and as he had begged his friend to postpone an excellent story till her return, he went to her apartment and called “Griselda! — Griselda, my love!”— No Griselda answered. — He searched for her in vain in every room in the house: at last, in an alcove in the garden, he found the fair dissolved in tears.
“Good Heavens! my dear Griselda, what can be the matter?”
A melancholy, not to say sullen, silence was maintained by his dear Griselda, till this question had been reiterated in all the possible tones of fond solicitude and alarm: at last, in broken sentences, she replied that she saw he did not love her — never had loved her; that she had now but too much reason to be convinced that all her fears were real, not imaginary; that her presentiments, alas! never deceived her; that she was the most miserable woman on earth.
Her husband’s unfeigned astonishment she seemed to consider as an aggravation of her woes, and it was an additional insult to plead ignorance of his offence.
If he did not understand her feelings, it was impossible, it was needless, to explain them. He must have lost all sympathy with her, all tenderness for her, if he did not know what had passed in her mind.
The man stood in stupid innocence. Provoked to speak more plainly, the lady exclaimed, “Unfeeling, cruel, barbarous man! — Have not you this whole day been trying your utmost skill to torment me to death? and, proud of your success, now you come to enjoy your triumph.”
“Success! — triumph!”
“Yes, triumph! — I see it in your eyes — it is in vain to deny it. All this I owe to your friend Mr. Granby. Why he should be my enemy! — I who never injured him, or any body living, in thought, word, or deed — why he should be my enemy!”—
“Enemy! — My love, this is the strangest fancy! Why should you imagine that he is your enemy?”
“He is my enemy — nobody shall ever convince me of the contrary; he has wounded me in the tenderest point, and in the basest manner: has not he done his utmost, in the most artful, insidious way — even before my face — to persuade you that you were a thousand times happier when you were a bachelor than you are now — than you ever have been since you married me?”
“Oh, my dear Griselda, you totally misunderstand him: such a thought never entered his mind.”
“Pardon me, I know him better than you do.”
“But I have known him ever since I was a child.”
“That is the very reason you cannot judge of him as well as I can: how could you judge of character when you were a child?”
“But now that I am a man —”
“Now that you are a man you are prejudiced in his favour by all the associations of your childhood — all those associations,” continued the fair one, renewing her tears, “all those early associations, which are stronger than every other species of affection — all those associations which I never can have in your mind, which ever must act against me, and which no merit — if I had any merit — no tenderness, no fidelity, no fondness of mine, can ever hope to balance in the heart of the man I love.”
“My dearest Griselda! be reasonable, and do not torment yourself and me for no earthly purpose about these associations: really it is ridiculous. Come, dry these useless tears, let me beseech you, my love. You do not know how much pain they give me, unreasonable as they are.”
At these words they flowed more bitterly.
“Nay, my love, I conjure you to compose yourself, and return to the company: you do not know how long you have been away, and I too. We shall be missed; we shall make ourselves ridiculous.”
“If it be ridiculous to love, I shall be ridiculous all my life. I am sorry you think me so; I knew it would come to this; I must bear it if I can,” said Griselda; “only be so kind to excuse me from returning to the company to-night — indeed I am not fit, I am not able: say that I am not well; indeed, my love, you may say so with truth. — Tell your friend that I have a terrible head-ache, and that I am gone to bed — but not to rest,” added she, in a lower and more plaintive tone, as she drew her hand from her husband’s, and in spite of all his entreaties retired to her room with an air of heart-broken resignation.
Whoever has had the felicity to be beloved by such a wife as our Griselda, must have felt how much the charms of beauty are heightened by the anguish of sensibility. Even in the moment when a husband is most tormented by her caprices, he feels that there is something so amiable, so flattering to his vanity in their source, that he cannot complain of the killing pleasure. On the contrary, he grows fonder of his dear tormentor; he folds closer to him this pleasing bosom ill.
Griselda perceived the effects, and felt the whole extent of the power of sensibility; she had too much prudence, however, at once to wear out the excitability of a husband’s heart; she knew that the influence of tears, potent as it is, might in time cease to be irresistible, unless aided by the magic of smiles; she knew the power of contrast even in charms; she believed the poets, who certainly understand these things, and who assure us that the very existence of love depends on this blest vicissitude. Convinced, or seemingly convinced, of the folly of that fond melancholy in which she persisted for a week, she next appeared all radiant with joy; and she had reason to be delighted by the effect which this produced. Her husband, who had not yet been long enough her husband to cease to be her lover, had suffered much from the obstinacy of her sorrow; his spirits had sunk, he had become silent, he had been even seen to stand motionless with his arms folded; he was in this attitude when she approached and smiled upon him in all her glory. He breathed, he lived, he moved, he spoke. — Not the influence of the sun on the statue of Memnon was ever more exhilarating.
Let any candid female say, or, if she will not say, imagine, what she should have felt at that moment in Griselda’s place. — How intoxicating to human vanity, to be possessed of such powers of enchantment! — How difficult to refrain from their exercise! — How impossible to believe in their finite duration!
“Some hope a lover by their faults to win,
As spots on ermine beautify the skin.”
When Griselda thought that her husband had long enough enjoyed his new existence, and that there was danger of his forgetting the taste of sorrow, she changed her tone. — One day, when he had not returned home exactly at the appointed minute, she received him with a frown — such as would have made even Mars himself recoil, if Mars could have beheld such a frown upon the brow of his Venus.
“Dinner has been kept waiting for you this hour, my dear.”
“I am very sorry for it; but why did you wait, my dear? I am really very sorry I am so late, but (looking at his watch) it is only half past six by me.”
“It is seven by me.”
They presented their watches to each other; he, in an apologetical, she, in a reproachful attitude.
“I rather think you are too fast, my dear,” said the gentleman.
“I am very sure you are too slow, my dear,” said the lady.
“My watch never loses a minute in the four-and-twenty hours,” said he.
“Nor mine a second,” said she.
“I have reason to believe I am right, my love,” said the husband, mildly.
“Reason!” exclaimed the wife, astonished; “what reason can you possibly have to believe you are right, when I tell you I am morally certain you are wrong, my love?”
“My only reason is, that I set my watch by the sun to-day.”
“The sun must be wrong, then,” cried the lady, hastily. —“You need not laugh; for I know what I am saying — the variation, the declination, must be allowed for in computing it with the clock. Now you know perfectly well what I mean, though you will not explain it for me, because you are conscious I am in the right.”
“Well, my dear, if you are conscious of it, that is sufficient. We will not dispute any more about such a trifle. — Are they bringing up dinner?”
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