Butcher, Baker, Wafer-Maker

Miri Rubin

  • The Good Wife’s Guide: A Medieval Household Book translated by Gina Greco and Christine Rose
    Cornell, 366 pp, £16.95, March 2009, ISBN 978 0 8014 7474 3

My dear, because you were only 15 years old the week we were married, you asked that I be indulgent about your youth and inexperience until you had seen and learned more. You expressly promised to listen carefully and to apply yourself wholeheartedly to preserving my contentment and love for you (as you so prudently said following advice from, I do believe, someone more wise than yourself), beseeching me humbly in our bed, as I recall, that for the love of God I not rebuke you harshly in front of either strangers or our household, but that I admonish you each night, or on a daily basis, in our bedroom, and that I remind you of your errors or foolishness of the day or days past and that I chastise you, if I should want to.

These are the words which open the 14th-century book of household management and comportment in marriage known as Le Ménagier de Paris. Filling almost 300 pages in this new translation, it is as compendious as Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management, and equally ambitious. Yet unlike the energetic Mrs Beeton, the author of Le Ménagier de Paris is unknown and unknowable. He adopts the voice of ‘Husband’, addressing his ‘Young Wife’ and offering moral guidance, advice on hospitality and food and several cautionary tales, told in styles ranging from terse prose to poetry, as well as treatises on animal husbandry and hunting.

The full text of this book review is only available to subscribers of the London Review of Books.

You are not logged in