What have you learned from Literature? That was the question I had some fun answering this week over on Instagram, and thought I would share it here.
Romantic Poets made Terrible Husbands. They were always slipping out for country walks (marching the dirt back on their boots for Mrs Coleridge to clean up, long before the invention of the vacuum cleaner) and warbling on about death or daffodils when they returned. All they wanted to do was drone on about themselves and the revelations offered by hills and sheep. (“A tot of laudanum, Wordsworth?” “Don’t mind if I do. Now, about that baa-ing crag...tortured youth or weathered age?”) While Mrs C contemplated the muddy footprints leading to the fireside and had some insights of her own, no doubt.
When they were at home, these scribbling softies couldn't cope with interruptions - look at fuss about the Person from Porlock. How on earth did they cope with family life? Can you imagine being married to Wordsworth? All that "Well, my sister Dorothy says...and Dorothy wouldn't do it like that…and Dorothy always listens!"
As for selfish Shelley and his bloody boat! Off sailing when the house on the shore was sorely in need of some manly DIY. His wife was expected to get cracking with hammer and nails herself, cope with a flooding ground floor, sick children and miscarriages while he skipped off -“Hello Sea, hello Sky and Wind!”- to see a yacht builder who could supply a bigger, better boy’s toy to keep up with his posturing mate Byron…no wonder Mary saw monsters under the skin of men.
What about Keats, all white-faced and melancholic after spending all night listening for nightingales - what good would he have been in a crisis? All ripe was the drowsy hour for him, with his Negative Capability. Clever, eh? Just droop around waiting for Happenings to happen.
How a Mrs K would have thrilled to that excuse as she rushed around attending to the practicalities of life. (“And another thing, dear husband, the water you slosh on the floor around the copper bathtub does NOT evaporate. The dryness is effected by a cross woman with an absorbent cloth!”) And in his own words: “Oh, for ten years, that I may overwhelm Myself in poesy; so I may do the deed…” Blimey. Talk about a soggy nana. No wonder it was a No Thank You from La Belle Dame Sans Merci.