By Barbara Allen of There Are Wives
Includes Mrs. Robert Louis Stevenson
(Fanny Van de Grift Osborne)
In the late 1800s, these words appeared in a short novel, published in
England, and deeply affected people all over the world:
I resolved in my future conduct to redeem the past; and I can say
with honesty that my resolve was fruitful of some good. You know yourself
how earnestly in the last months...I laboured to relieve suffering; you
know that much was done for others,...but I was still cursed with my duality
of purpose and as the first edge of my penitence wore off, the lower side
of me, so long indulged, so recently chained down, began to growl for license.These sentences by Robert Louis Stevenson from his powerful story Dr.
Jekyll and Mr. Hyde are about the two opposites which Aesthetic Realism
says are in all people, including wives--good and evil, respect and contempt.
The man who wrote these words was keenly aware of the struggle between
these two mighty forces: his "duality of purpose," what was good and "the
lower side" of human beings. And, I believe, his marriage with Fanny Van
de Grift Osborne is important in the history of marriage, because criticism
was such an essential part of their care for each other. Tonight I will
be talking about this aspect of their marriage, in relation to what I learned
from Eli Siegel and Aesthetic Realism classes and lessons, and about what
women are learning in Aesthetic Realism consultations today.
We asked a woman having her first consultation, "What do you think your
husband's criticism of you is?" After some thought, she answered, "Maybe
I am a little 'noodge.'" But she explained, she has to be that way, otherwise
he would do nothing. Then she said she does not think well of herself for
this. "What do I do?" she asked. "I wonder every day 'Why am I always screaming?'"
Wives are critical. Husbands are critical--all the time. Most often
criticism shows itself in forms that are painful--two people end up screaming
at each other; a husbands works longer hours so that he doesn't have to
go home; a woman calls herself a fish-wife or goes to bed with headaches.
We have learned from Eli Siegel and Aesthetic Realism that the success
of our lives and of marriage depends on what we do with the criticisms
we have. In his essay "The Criticism of Self," Mr. Siegel writes:
Criticism is a constant business. What, however, has not been seen
is that the criticism of self must be aesthetic. Two purposes must be served
by criticism of self: honesty must be satisfied and encouragement must
take place.I have learned that criticism is love for a person when our purpose is
to encourage a person to be stronger, more true to himself. And we don't
feel loved unless the person we are close to wants us to be strong--which
means we don't feel loved unless that person criticizes us. Most
wives do not know how to be honestly critical and encouraging at once,
so we swing back and forth from devotion to scorn; from admiration to anger.