Good Wives? : Mary, Fanny, Jennie and Me, 1845-2001, Paperback

Good Wives? : Mary, Fanny, Jennie and Me, 1845-2001 Paperback

4 out of 5 (1 rating)


What is a 'good wife'? The bestselling author of Hidden Lives explores four marriages, including her own, in different times and societies to find the answer.

In 1848 Mary Moffatt became the wife of the missionary and explorer David Livingstone - and her obedience and devotion eventually killed her.

In 1960, Margaret Forster married her school sweetheart Hunter Davies in a London Registry Office - and interpreted the role very differently.

Between these two marriages is a huge gulf in which the notion of marriage changed immeasurably.

Forster traces the shift in emphasis from submission to partnership, first through the marriage of one unconventional American, Fanny Osbourne, to Robert Louis Stevenson, in the late nineteenth century; and then through that of Jennie Lee to Aneurin Bevan in the 1930s.

Why does a woman still want to be a wife in the twenty-first century?

What is the value of marriage today? Why do couples still marry in church? These are some of the questions Forster asks as she weaves the personal experience of forty years through the stories of three wives who have long fascinated her.


  • Format: Paperback
  • Pages: 368 pages, 8
  • Publisher: Vintage Publishing
  • Publication Date:
  • Category: Gender studies: women
  • ISBN: 9780099283775



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She examines the lives as wives of Mary Livingtone (wife of David), Fanny Stevenson (wife of Robert Louis) and Jennie Lee (wife of Aneurin Bevan), and compares it with her own in the late twentieth century. I found the tone a little frustrating at times (she gets quite sniffy about the way Mary Livingstone won't stand up to David at all, yet that would have been the norm during that period of history). I came away with a feeling of overwhelming relief that I was born now, rather than 150 odd years ago! What was interesting was the detail provided of the women's lives. All three were very different, Mary was born in Africa and felt most comfortable there (she accompanied David on many of his expeditions), whilst Fanny would have been quite notorious for her time, as she was divorced. They obviously led lives very very different to those of most women of their age and class as they travelled an enormous amount. Jennie was also a pioneer, one of the very early female MPs, who didn't want to marry at all, but ended up married to Bevan as the Health Service was brought into being.

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