TO THE LADIES [Full text & Notes]
BY Mary Chudleigh
Wife and servant are the same,
But only differ in the name:
For when that fatal knot is tied,
Which nothing, nothing can divide:
When she the word obey has said,
And man by law supreme has made,
Then all that’s kind is laid aside,
And nothing left but state and pride:
Fierce as an Eastern prince he grows,
And all his innate rigour shows:
Then but to look, to laugh, or speak,
Will the nuptial contract break.
Like mutes she signs alone must make,
And never any freedom take:
But still be governed by a nod,
And fear her husband as a God:
Him still must serve, him still obey,
And nothing act, and nothing say,
But what her haughty lord thinks fit,
Who with the power, has all the wit.
Then shun, oh! shun that wretched state,
And all the fawning flatt’rers hate:
Value your selves, and men despise,
You must be proud, if you’ll be wise.
What can you say about the relationship between men and women after reading Mary Chudleigh’s lines?
Basically, Chudleigh believes that the role of women in a marriage is to be a servant to the man; “wife” and “servant” are synonymous in her eyes. Once a woman says her vows and promises to obey, it is a fatal knot that is tied. Make no mistake, the word fatal is used very precisely: it does not mean that fatal means death itself, but a warning to women that once the vows have been said, it is a bond of permanent nature. Fatal represents to death ‘til we part, but also represents the loss of a woman’s individual freedoms. She believes once the vows have been set aside, the husband becomes more powerful, “fierce as an eastern price” (l. 9) which in turn makes the woman powerless. Therefore, the bride is not free anymore to share her own ideas or ideals, cannot speak or laugh as she wishes and must obey her husband as if he were God. The basis of the relationship is that women are subservient to men.
Describe the attitude of men towards women.
Judging by the poem, the attitude of men towards women is that they are weaker and less intelligent than men. Women do not have their own intelligent ideas, do not know when it is proper to speak, and how do to do the right thing. It seems like men think they should have the power to rule over women and force them to do as the men wish. She is only considered a good wife if she shares approved sentiments rather than come up with her own ideas. He is the one with the power along with the wit, not her.
What must women do if they are to escape their fate?
Chudleigh feels that women should shun the wretched state of marriage and give hate to exaggerated flattery. She feels that flattery is soon to end after tying the knot, when marriage becomes serious. She cautions the girls to value themselves, and to ensure that they feel important as an individual, and spurn the advances of men. A woman needs to be proud and wise if she is to be happy. Oh, and single too. In short, a woman needs to rely on herself.