The Dandy Wife

London: T. Birt, c. 1828.

A man thinks that selecting a wife from a boarding school will satisfy him -- and quickly learns that she's out to meet her own needs

(Item #5421) The Dandy Wife. Honorable Prostitution, Marital Economies, Sex, Women's Education, Broadside Ballad.

The Dandy Wife

London: T. Birt, c. 1828. First edition. Single sheet measuring 250 x 185mm and printed in two columns to recto. Some edgewear to margins not affecting text; a bit of foxing and toning largely confined to margins. A scarce and delicate survivor, OCLC documents only one example (at the National Library of Scotland). The present is the only example on the market.

The Dandy Wife is narrated by a man who aimed "to choose me out a loving wife" at the age of twenty-one, but whose experience becomes a warning to "all young men of high renown": "If you want a tidy wife, Beware of a boarding school." What unfolds is a satire of how the marriage economy is affected when women have access to knowledge -- intellectual and physical -- and how by meeting a man's superficial expectations a woman can fulfill her own more pressing needs.

Thinking that a boarding school girl will have the innocence, submissiveness, and domestic skill he desires, the narrator selects a wife from among their ranks. Thinking only of what he can obtain from such a bargain, he is unprepared for what an educated woman brings into his house. The Dandy Wife he describes understands the commodity value of her own beauty and material adornment, and that these are her key means for acquiring wealth of her own. "She takes one-half of what I earn, In drinking gin and tea; Besides such frills and furbelows My Dandy Wife does wear...Her sleeves upon her dandy gown, Oh! Lack, they're such a size, You'd think they were two balloons that in the air would rise." Aside from staying on par with fashion trends, her clothing assists her in avoiding domestic tasks she abhors. She refuses to do laundry more than monthly, and through ridiculous cooking failures she rapidly establishes that the kitchen is not a showcase for her skillset. Accustomed to a life of learning, she is not trained to conduct domestic business.

By the ballad's end, it becomes clear that the Dandy Wife was savvier in managing a marriage than her husband was. For not only does her superior intellect help her carve out a more satisfying role, but she also has physical knowledge that predates him: "The day that I was married, I thought I'd got a charming maid, But I was much deceived...For scarce five months we'd married been, When she had a darling son."
(Item #5421)

The Dandy Wife