Book Review

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Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, Good Wives Image and Reality in the Lives of Women in Northern New England 1650-1750 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1983)
The novel Good Wives is a study of the many roles women play in Northern New England from 1650-1750. The book is split into three sections; all named after biblical females who portrayed idealized feminine traits within New England society. The first part is named Bathsheba, which shows and explains the responsibilities and possibilities women had as a housewife focusing on economic life. The second part is dedicated to Eve. It includes not only the role of being a mother, but also the complexities of sexual life and childbirth in New England. In the third section, Jael, Ulrich explains the connection between female aggression and religion through many stories of violence. The novel shows in great detail the church requirements of what it means to be a “good wife” for a women living Colonial New England throughout their daily lives. In doing so, and then contrasting it to what actually happened in their lives, it shows that these women were far from just submissive beings to their husbands; but rather very important to colonial society, unlike how they may have been thought of in the past.

Ulrich states, “None of these roles existed in isolation. Each must be studied not only in relation to the others but within the detailed context of ordinary life in a particular place and time. Good Wives is a study of role definition”(p.10). In other words, the thesis of Good Wives is that to be a good wife there are many roles one must fulfill including being a housewife, a deputy husband, a consort, a mother, a mistress, a neighbor, a Christian, and in some instances a heroine.

In part one of the book, Bathsheba, Ulrich explains how to be a good wife focusing on economic life. To be a good housewife woman must polish female specialties including cooking, washing, sewing, milking, spinning, cleaning, and gardening. A...
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