The Eighth Year: We Survived "The Fatal Year of Marriage"
After successfully staving off "The Seven Year Itch", we have now survived "The Fatal Year of Marriage". Honestly, years 7 and 8 weren't hard, so why did everyone tell us they would be? In order to find out, we need to go all the way back to 1913.
Courtney: Hello everyone. Welcome, or welcome back, to The Ace Couple podcast. If you are new around here, hello, my name is Courtney, and hello to you, my lovely spouse and co-host Royce. Happy nine-year anniversary. Can you believe that? That’s almost 10! That’s almost ten whole years of being married! Time, right?
Courtney: So, little over a year ago, we decided to talk about The Seven Year Itch.
Royce: Because we had passed said seven years.
Courtney: Not merely passed, nay. We successfully staved off the seven year itch for… I didn’t feel it. But we did discuss the concept of the seven year itch, as well as the movie The Seven Year Itch, which was adapted from a stage play originally, but that movie sort of became so iconic in the cultural consciousness that that is sort of most people’s current frame of reference for what The Seven Year Itch is.
Royce: Right. But there are other similar concepts.
Courtney: Indeed, there are. And what I think is funny is that– And if you haven’t listened to that episode yet, definitely I do recommend going to listen to it. You don’t necessarily have to listen to it before this one, but it is very interesting and this, I guess, we can consider kind of a sequel. Because we decided to track “the seven year itch” going back even further, which– one really funny little factoid, the phrase “the seven year itch” used to be very, like, medical. That’s what they called scabies. And yet over the course of time, it came to become known as sort of that anxious, jittery sort of feeling of boredom and a desire for change after allegedly seven years of marriage. And upon further research, we decided that it was absolutely vital that we cover a book called ‘The Eighth Year: A Vital Problem of Married Life’ by one Mr Philip Gibbs, in the year 1913. So this book, first of all hilarious, I loved every second of reading. It– it was inspired by this concept of the eighth year, which the author Philip Gibbs was pulling almost exclusively from the President Of The Divorce Court, Sir Francis Jeune. Who stated, and I quote, “The eighth year is the most dangerous year in the adventure of marriage.”
Courtney: So having just completed our so-called most dangerous year, I think we are highly qualified to talk on this subject.
Courtney: The layout of this book is a little odd by today’s standards, but it’s actually not too abnormal for old historical books. Now 1913 is a little more modern than most of the books I read, because in my working career I’m normally reading text from the Victorian era, 1800’s or even earlier. So when I see this, I can definitely tell there are inspirations from some of those, like, late 1800s books, because it’s split into two sections and the second half is just a fictional story. It’s just a thing he wrote about this concept of the eighth year. But the entire first section of the book is basically making his case in a pseudo/non-fictional way about why this actually is a concept, and sort of proving to us this is a real thing, and now that we’ve established this is a real thing, now you may read my fictional story of it.
Royce: It’s interesting that Part 1, which is the argument which goes through, I assume, the logic behind this–
Royce: –is only a little over a third of the book, and the rest of the book is these demonstrations, these fictional examples.
Courtney: Yeah. Well if you’re going by straight page number, that is true. But the words, like, if you flip through the book, you can tell that the fictional story in the second half is almost exclusively dialogue. Like, it reads like a play. So there are, like, line breaks.
Royce: It is– it is spaced very differently.
Royce: There’s a lot more white space, and far more short lines.
Royce: Compared to the front of the book is just a wall of text.
Courtney: Yes, and it really does read like a play to me. I feel like all it needs is stage directions and it only needs a single set, it’s this couple’s apartment. You never see them in a different setting. Almost exclusively dialogue. So, I can very easily see how things progressed from this concept of the eighth year from President of the Divorce Court, to this book, The Eighth Year, to the play, The Seven Year Itch, to the movie The Seven Year Itch. And now just the occasional people in everyday society talking about The Seven Year Itch, as if it’s just a given real thing. So I am fascinated by that cultural progression.
Courtney: It is worth noting that every time he writes the eighth year in this book, it is capitalized. The Eighth Year just makes it that much more dramatic to me. So to get our timelines a little straight here: this Sir Francis Jeune, also later Baron St Helier, was the President of the Probate Divorce and Admiral– Admiral-tee? Admi-ral-ty? Division – that’s– that’s not a word I think I’ve ever had to say aloud before – from the years 1892 to 1905. And Philip Gibbs is– he’s a fanboy. [laughs]
Royce: Hence the book.
Courtney: [laughs] Hence the book. And so in the first half of this, it’s such a funny read. It is such a funny read! Because there are so many lines that if you take them out of context, they sound, like, very aromantic. And could be really good. And if it wasn’t in the context of this travesty, it could almost be like historical aro hero. [laughs] Because some of these lines read that way. There are also some lines that if you– if they stood on their own, sound very feminist, but then he makes the argument that it’s bad actually. So again, like, taken out of context, this could almost be very progressive. So that’s why it’s such a funny read to me. So he goes on to have a– have a little conversation about this President of the Divorce Court, and his quote about the eighth year etc. etc.
Courtney: And then he says, “But why the eighth year? Why not the 12th, 14th or 18th year? The answer is not to be found in any old superstition. There is nothing uncanny about the number 8. The problem is not to be shrugged off by people who despise the foolish old tradition which clings to 13 and imagine this to be in the same class of folly. By the law of averages, and by undeniable statistics, it has been proved that it brings many broken hearted men and women to the divorce court.” So he’s saying, nothing superstitious about it but we got the numbers, we have the statistics, this is insurmountable evidence that there is something about the eighth year. “For instance – he says – taking the annual average of divorces in England between 1904 and 1908, one finds that there were only six divorces between husbands and wives who had been married less than a year. Only 18 divorces between those married less than two years. Between the second and fifth years, the number increases to 117. Then there is a tremendous jump, and the numbers between the 5th and 10th years are 292.”
Courtney: [continues reading] “The period of the eighth year is the most productive of divorce. The figures are more startling and more significant when they cover a longer period. But apart from statistics, and apart altogether from the divorce court, which is only one house of trouble, by using one’s own eyes and one’s own circle of friends, one may see that young married couples who started happily enough show signs of stress and strain as the year approaches. The fact is undeniable.” And then– Some of these times too is so funny, because he’s, like, very melodramatic sometimes. And I love it. I love the melodrama. He goes on to say, “There is not one cause, there are many causes, all leading up from the first day of marriage inevitably with the unswerving, relentless fatality of Greek tragedy to the eighth year.” [laughs] I love it. It’s so good. And he goes on to then make the assertion that these causes are deeply rooted in the social system of modern home life. So of the modern 1910s, there is a new and emerging issue which hasn’t been seen before.
Courtney: And he also makes the assertion that it is mainly a middle-class problem, because, he says, “The rich and the poor are – for reasons which I will show later in the argument – exempt in a large measure from the fatality of the eighth year. The economic position of this class – he says – its social ambitions, its intellectual adventures, its general education, its code of morality, its religion or lack of religion, its little conventional cults, the pressure of outside influences thrusting inwards to the hidden life in these little homes, bringing dangerous ideas through the front door, or through the keyholes, and all the mental and moral vibrations that are in the air today, especially in the air breathed by the middle class, has produced the Eighth Year.”
Courtney: First of all, I love moral vibrations. Like, we hear of good vibes. We hear of bad vibes. Good vibrations… What about moral vibrations? And does that mean that there are immoral vibrations in the air every time there’s, like, a moral panic?
Royce: It makes sense.
Courtney: It makes sense. But it’s that little teaser of outside influences that sometimes he slips into a phrase here and there that’s like that is incredibly aromantic of you. Almost well done. But here’s the funniest part, I think earlier I mentioned it’s like a pseudo/non-fictional case for the first half. He still almost makes it a little bit fictional as he’s going along. Because he’s trying to illustrate it by example, to say, “Oh here we have a couple.” Say we have a couple who’s like this, that, the other thing. And it’s really funny because just about everything he lays out in the first section ends up making it into his fictional dialogue in the second half. So a lot of it is just very redundant and just told in a slightly different spin. Which that’s the part that’s weird for me. The breaking it up into two different sections, having sort of an argument before the main context is something I’ve seen before.
Courtney: There’s actually a resource which I’ve used for years in my own work that it’s called The Lock Of Hair, by Alexanna Speight, and it’s one of the only published books from the Victorian era that talks about how to do a certain genre of hair work, called palette work, where you’re making sort of flat pictures out of hair. They’re almost like a hair painting. And in that book, the entire first section isn’t giving instructionals at all. It’s talking about, like, the history of hair and the meaning of hair, and why people ritualize their hair, wear their hair in certain ways. And then the second half of the book is the actual tutorial and instructions. But this one, it’s like, “I’m just going to tell you the same thing twice in two different ways.” [laughs]
Courtney: [reading] “Here we have, in the first year, a young man and woman who have come together, not through any overmastering force of passion, but as middle-class men and women who are mostly brought together by the accidents of juxtaposition and by a pleasant sentiment. They met before marriage at tennis parties, at suburban dances, at evening at homes. By the laws of natural selection aided a little by anxious mothers, this young man and this young woman find out, or think they find out, that they are – quote – suited to each other.”
Royce: Boo reference of natural selection in this context.
Courtney: Well yes, boo that! I mean, they also very casually, in the fashion of the day, bring up, like, eugenics as a very intellectual conversation to have amongst the middle class. So like–
Royce: It was 1913.
Courtney: Yes, make no mistake. This was white people in 1913. In England. But aside from the mention of natural selection, just the– such a snarky, like, oh, they’re just brought together and their mothers have some outside pressure, their mothers want them to get married. And so they meet each other in the same social class, shut– class at these dull functions and they think they’re made for each other, they think they could be a good couple. It’s so funny to me. [reading] “The young man thrills in a pleasant way in the presence of the girl. She leads him on by absurd little tiffs artfully arranged: by the pretense of flirtation with other boys, by provocative words, by moments of tenderness, changing abruptly to sham indifference, or followed by little shafts of satire, which wound his pride and sting him into desire for her. He pursues her, not knowing that he is pursued, so they meet halfway. This affair makes him restless, ill-at-ease. It interrupts his work and his ambitions. Presently, it becomes an obsession and he knows that he has – in quotes – ‘fallen in love’.” It’s so good! [laughs]
Courtney: Now, this next line, I think, is particularly interesting when we talk about sort of the cultural changes in romantic, sexual, or marriage habits at large. He says, [reading] “In the middle classes, love still presupposes marriage. Though the idea is not so fast rooted as in the old days. But how the Dickens is he to manage it? He is just starting his career as something in the city, or as solicitor, or barrister, journalist, artist, doctor. His income is barely sufficient for himself, according to his way of life, which includes decent clothes, a club, a game of golf when he feels like it, a motorcycle, or a small car, a holiday abroad, theaters, a bachelor dinner now and then, the usual thing. He belongs to the younger generation with wider interest, larger ideas, higher ambitions than those with which his father and mother started life.” So I love the touch of juvenoia also. Where he’s starting to say, like, “Technically in this class, the romance does come before the marriage,” but he’s making the case that that’s getting less common than previously, presumably in his early-twenty-something’s.
Courtney: “Times have changed,” he says. Which is still so funny, because it’s still very white middle class, even when he’s talking about how, “Oh, this young man of today remembers his early struggles of his father’s ceaseless anxiety to make both ends meet. His mother mending stockings. There was always a litter of needlework on the dining room table after supper. There were times when she did without a maid and exhausted herself with domestic drudgery. There were no foreign holidays then, only a week or two at the seaside once a year. They were conscious of their shabby gentility and hated it. The modern young man looks with a kind of horror upon all this domestic squalor, as he calls it. He couldn’t stand it. If marriage means that for him he will have none of it. But need it mean that? He and Winifred will scheme out their lives differently. They will leave out the baby side of the business — until they can afford to indulge in it.” I love how this is his more like non-fictional example, and yet he’s naming this fictional wife. [laughs]
Royce: I can’t hear the name Winifred without thinking of the lead witch from Hocus Pocus.
Courtney: Good. [laughs] Didn’t they make a Hocus Pocus two?
Royce: That sounds right.
Courtney: Yeah, we didn’t watch that. I didn’t even– I had never seen Hocus Pocus until these recent few years, I watched it with you once. And of course you were like, “I haven’t seen this in ages.” And I was like, “I’ve never seen it.”
Royce: Wasn’t that one of those just, “Somehow I didn’t see this as a kid so we should watch it,” kind of movies?
Courtney: Yeah. Well, I’ve never been much of a movie person, but there are certain movies that people are always shocked and appalled that I’ve never seen, and that’s kind of one of them. I was actually– I’ve been on business in Salem, Massachusetts a couple of times, and one time people were like pointing out a house that was filmed in Hocus Pocus, and I was like, “I’ve never seen that.” And they’re like, “What?! This is one of our main tourist attractions!” And I was like, “I’m sorry, I don’t care.” But the book continues. [reading] “They pledge each other, “till death do us part,” and the girl, who has been reading a great many novels lately, is very happy because her own plot is working out according to the rules of romance.”
Courtney: It’s so low-key aro! The rules of romance. They think they’re suited for each other. He knows he is – quote – “fallen in love.” [reading] They know nothing of the real man or the real woman hidden beneath the mask of social conventions, beneath the delightful sham of romantic affection. They know nothing of their own souls, nor of the strength that is in them to stand the test of life’s realities. They know nothing of their own weakness.” Come on now! Sham of romantic affection?!
Royce: This writer feels like a prophet foretelling doom.
Courtney: Yes, I know! It’s so good. I would say, if he wasn’t such a grotesque misogynist, I would be inclined to say that this is, like, historical aromantic hero, but he gets bad. But that’s why this is such a complicated wave of emotions, as I’m reading through this. Because some of the lines are so good and hilarious, and then it gets so like, oh yeah, this is 1913. [laughs] “So they marry.”
Royce: Mistake number one, according to Philip Gibbs.
Courtney: [derogatorily] “They marry.” [reading] “The first year merges into the second. Not yet do they know each other. It is in the third and fourth year that they begin to find each other out. The bright fires of their passion have died down, burning with a fitful glow, burning low. Until then they had been lovers to each other, hidden from each other by the illusions of romantic love.”
Royce: So is Phillip Gibbs depiction of marriage, like, first two years: no talk, only sex.
Courtney: I– I think so! I guess that’s the polite 1913 British way of saying that.
Royce: Years three and four: okay, sex is getting dull, I guess we can talk now.
Courtney: [laughs] [continues reading] “But now, both the husband and wife begin to see each other, not as lovers, but as man and woman. It is rather disturbing.” [laughs] It’s so good. [carries on reading] “It is distressing to the young wife to discover, gradually, by a series of little accidents, that this man with whom she has to live all her life is not made of different clay from other men, that he is made of the same clay. One by one all the little romantic illusions out of which she had built up the false image of him, from the heroes of sentimental fiction, from the dreams of girlhood, are stripped from him, until he stands bare before her, the natural man. She does not like the natural man.” [laughs]
Royce: Well, there is something that still holds true there, that we’ve spoken of. [Courtney laughs] Is faulty depictions of relationships in society and media cause relationship strife.
Courtney: Yes! And that’s something we talked about a lot, today, in a present context, with an ace spec lens. And here’s a guy who is very pro straight marriage, who is kind of saying the same things. It’s hilarious to me, I love it. It’s like, was he the first straight dude to, like, start raising the alarm bells for this?
Courtney: But then people started taking it in a very different direction. And as we get into his own findings, his own belief on how the eighth year progresses and how it manifests, I have seen sort of a distortion from this to what has now become our concept of the seven year itch. Because if you’ll recall, when we covered The Seven Year Itch movie, it was the man whose, you know, wife is out of town. He’s the one who’s getting a little antsy and, you know, looking at another woman and thinking about sleeping around.
Courtney: That’s kind of the opposite of what the original assertion was, which is funny to me. But also there are so many readings of the romantic illusions crumble and before her is natural man, and she does not like the natural man. Like that could be so feminist, that could be so lesbian, that could be so aromantic, or… Like it’s– It could be so good. [continues reading] “She sees, too clearly for her spiritual comfort, that they are not “twin-souls.” They have not been made in the same mould.” So here the concept of soulmates is crashing down around her. “She begins to challenge his authority, not deliberately, nor openly, but by ignoring his hints, or by disregarding his advice. She even challenges his opinions, and that is a shock to him. It is a blow to his vanity. By the end of the fourth year they know each other pretty well.” [laughs] I’m so glad he gave us a full timeline.
Courtney: [reading] “In the fifth and sixth years they have settled down to the jog-trot of the married life. Not yet do they see the shadow of the Eighth Year looming ahead. They have faced the reality of life, and knowing each other as they really are have made a working compromise. Their love has steadied down to a more even flame, and passion is almost extinguished. They have decided to play the game, according to the creed of their class, exactly as their neighbors are playing it.” And he goes on to talk about how they have dinners, they have at homes – which is, you know, social gatherings where they entertain, bring people over. And he’s starting to make a little more money now, maybe he’s gotten a promotion, so he can afford a few extra little luxuries for her. But also, “Remembering the times from his childhood when occasionally his mom went without a maid.” Oh, nay, nay. That is not going to happen for his wife.
Courtney: They definitely have a maid, at least one maid, because she is not going to be doing any housework. But she’s also not going to be doing any work-work, and so she’s just at home. She’s entertaining, she’s reading her novels, [reading] “He thanks heaven that his wife is happy. She is not unhappy, this wife, in the fifth and sixth year of marriage. After the first romantic illusions failed her she settled down quietly enough to play the game. [...] “But, on the whole, they play the game rather well in the fifth and sixth years of their married life. The husband takes the rough with the smooth. In spite of occasional bad tempers, in spite of grievances which are growing into habits of mind, he is a good fellow and — he thanks heaven his wife is happy.”
Courtney: [continues reading] “It is the seventh year. The wife is still doing exactly what she did in the fifth and sixth years. Her daily routine is exactly the same. Except that she can afford extra luxuries now [...] But somehow or other she is beginning to realize that she has not got what she wants. She does not know what she wants, but she knows that there is a great lack of something in her life. [...] She still reads a great number of romantic novels, and how insufferably tedious they have become! How false they are! How cloying is all this sickly sentiment!”
Royce: And here I thought the big evil was going to be wealth. Like, an idle hands sort of situation, where there’s no housework to be done, there’s no work-work to be done, what else happens? But no, it’s the romance novels.
Courtney: Oh, trust me. The idle hands is very much a part of it as well. [goes back to reading] “She searches about for the kind of novel which used to frighten her, problem novels, dangerous novels, novels dealing with real-life problems. She wants more of it. She wants to plunge deeper into the dangerous problems, to get nearer to the truth of things. She broods over their revelations. It is like drug drinking. It is like drug-drinking. This poisonous fiction stimulates her for a little while, until the effect of it has worn off and leaves her with an aching head. Her head often aches now. And her heart aches — though goodness knows why. [...] Everything is so stale. The gossip of her women friends is, oh — so stale! She has heard all their stories about all their servants, all their philosophy about the servant problem in general, all their shallow little views about life, and love, and marriage. She has found them all out, their vanities, their little selfish ways, their little lies and their shams and fooleries. They are exactly like herself.”
Courtney: And if that’s not enough to fan the flames of Greek tragedy, as he calls it, [reading] “In some cases, indeed in many cases, the presence of an “outsider” adds to the unhappiness of the wife and divides her still more from her husband. It is the presence of the mother-in-law.” So apparently, most of the time, for most marriages in 1913, once the father-in-law dies, the mother-in-law moves in with her son. So now she’s at home all day, and they don’t always get along too terribly well, [reading] “In many cases the mother-in-law becomes so terrible an incubus in small households that domestic servants leave with unfailing regularity before their month is “up,” husbands make a habit of being late at the office, and wives are seriously tempted to take to drink.”
Royce: I have not heard the word incubus used in that context before.
Courtney: Pretty fun, huh? And it talks a bit about this mother-in-law. How horrible it was when her son finally decided to get married, because then she knew that she would no longer be the number one woman in his life. [reading] “For a little while her jealousy is like that of a woman robbed of her lover. She hides it, and hides her hate for that girl whose simpering smile, whose prettiness, whose coy behavior, light fires in her son’s eyes, and set his pulse beating, and make him forgetful of his mother. Then the marriage takes place and the mother who has dreaded the day knows that it is her funeral. For she is like a queen whose prerogatives and privileges have been taken away by the death of the king, and by the accession of a new queen. Her place is taken from her. Her home is broken up. She is moved, with the furniture, into the new home, put into the second-best bedroom, and arranged to suit the convenience of the new household in which another woman is mistress.”
Courtney: “This – he says – is the eternal tragedy of the mother-in-law.” And all this builds and bubbles up in, remember, the seventh year. Husband comes home one day and, [reading] “He does not see her, when suddenly, after she has been reading a Mudie’s novel, page after page, without understanding one word, tears well up into her eyes, and fall upon the pages, until she bends her head down and puts her head” her hands rather, “up to her face, and sobs as though all her heart had turned to tears. It is the Eighth Year.” [...] “So in the Eighth Year the husband tries to take a common-sense view of things, not knowing that in the Eighth Year it is too late for common sense as far as the wife is concerned. She wants uncommon sense. Only some tremendous and extraordinary influence, spiritual, or moral, or intellectual, beyond the limits of ordinary common sense, may save her from the perils in her own heart. She must find a way of escape, for these unsatisfied yearnings, for this beating heart, for this throbbing brain. Her little home has become a cage to her. Her husband has become her jailer. Her life has become too narrow, too petty, too futile. In the Eighth Year she must find a way of escape — anyhow, anywhere. And in the Eighth Year the one great question is in what direction will she go? There are many ways of escape.”
Courtney: So, that’s the main biggest diverging point, where it’s the woman, after eight years, can’t freaking handle it anymore, and she has got to get out. Where when we get to The Seven Year Itch in the movie, it’s the guy. There’s no indication that the woman is having any issues. So then he talks about all of the means of escape. Once you’ve made it to the eighth year, it is almost certainly too late. But here are the different courses of action you can take. [reading] “One way of escape is through the door of the Divorce Court. Sir Francis Jeune, when he was President of the Divorce Court, saw before him many of these escaping women, and he noted down the fact about the Eighth Year; and sitting there with an impassive face, but watchful eyes, he saw the characters in all these little tragedies and came to know the type and the plot from constant reiteration. Sometimes the plot varied, but only in accidentals, never in essentials.”
Courtney: [keeps reading] “The procession still goes on, the long procession of women who tried to escape through the Divorce Court door. Every year they come, and the same story is told and retold with sickening repetition. In most cases they are childless wives.” Ah-a! There it is. [picks up reading] “That is proved, beyond dispute, by all statistics of divorce. Sometimes they have one or two children, but those cases are much more rare. But even when there are children to complicate the issues and to be the heirs of these tragedies, the causes behind the tragedies are the same. The woman has had idle hands in her lap before the Eighth Year of marriage has been reached.” There it is! You– you called it. “In the early years her little home was enough to satisfy her mind and heart, and her interests were enough to keep her busy. The coming of the first child, and of the second, if there is a second, was for a time sufficient to crowd her day with little duties and to prevent any restlessness or any deadly boredom. All went well while she had but one maidservant, and while her husband’s feet were still on the lower rungs of the ladder.” That being the– the career ladder. That’s the metaphor of choice for Mr. Philip Gibbs, as far as the husband’s career.
Courtney: [continues reading] “But the trouble began with the arrival of the extra servant and with the promotion of her husband. It began when gradually she handed over domestic duties to paid people, when she was seldom in the kitchen and more in the drawing-room, when the children were put under the charge of a nurse, and when the responsibilities of motherhood had become a sinecure. The fact must be faced that a child is not always a cure for the emptiness of a woman’s heart, nor an absolute pledge of fidelity between husband and wife. These women who seek a way of escape from their little homes are not always brought to that position by the unfulfilled instincts of motherhood. For many of them have no instincts of motherhood. They feel no great natural desire to have a child. They even shrink from the idea of motherhood, and plead their lack of courage, their ill-health, their weakness. With their husbands they are partners in a childless scheme, or if they have a child — they quickly thrust it into the nursery to leave themselves free.”
Royce: So that’s interesting. Because I have the transcript for the Seven Year Itch episode pulled up, and you quoted a modern study that said that marital satisfaction goes down dramatically with the birth of every child.
Courtney: Yes. And I am sure that is not the case for every individual couple. But–
Royce: No, these are trends.
Courtney: Yes. But also, just, even in 1913, acknowledging that there are some women who have no great natural desire to have children is so fascinating. Because, I swear, just the other day on Twitter I was seeing a tweet that was blowing up with a lot of controversy that was saying that all women want to be mothers, it’s a natural instinct to want children and you are unnatural and something’s wrong with you, and something needs to be fixed, if you don’t want children. And of course, there were loads of people, especially in our online circles, that were disputing that. But even someone who is so pro couples having kids as Philip Gibbs, in the year 1913, still acknowledging there are some women who don’t want children, it’s wild. Sometimes there are some surprisingly, I guess, progressive viewpoints on some of these like early 1910s, 1920s pieces of literature.
Courtney: I wish I could find it again– I’ve been searching, because I read it once and then I completely lost what the resource was. But I was reading an antique etiquette book that mentioned the concept of crossdressers. And they were saying that it is the polite thing to do– And this was, like, a men’s guide to etiquette. It was like, if someone is dressed as a woman and they are presenting themselves to be a woman, it is the correct polite thing to do to treat them as a woman. You should not question them, you should not ask about it, you should not interrogate them. Just treat them as a woman, if they are dressed as a woman. And I was like, “Wow! What a concept!” And of course, by today’s standards, we could definitely even nitpick that further and say that, you know, gender expression and, you know, clothing and aesthetic is not always going to be, you know, binary or in line with someone’s internal gender identity. But the way people are treating, you know, trans people now, like, we’ll see people always say, like, “Oh, we can always tell. We can always tell if you’re trans,” and trying to clock people. Trying just horrible, horrible things. And even some instances with all these bathroom bills, and bathroom hysteria going on lately. There are even cis women who have been, quote, “clocked” as being trans and tried to stopped from, like, using a restroom.
Courtney: And it’s like, where– where is the old fashion etiquette? Where someone is presenting themselves to be a woman, you treat them as a woman. Come on, now. Which that’s– that’s part of the more interesting component for me, as a queer person who studies history, is that it’s all very clearly antiquated, but there are talking points from then, bigoted ones, that are still being repeated today. So you can see very, very similar points. And then occasionally, you will find something that’s like, that seems more progressive than the common talking points of today. And so, it’s sort of a very, very weird mixture. And it’s interesting to try to make sense of the timeline.
Courtney: But interesting, Royce, that you did mention that study, because Philip Gibbs, here goes on to say, [reading] “On the other hand, it is a fact borne out by all the figures that a child does in the vast majority of cases bind together the husband and wife, as no other influence or moral re¬ straint; and that among all the women who come to the Divorce Court the overwhelming majority is made up of childless wives.” Which is also, just, even if that’s true, and I did not go to actually check the numbers of this time period, because that’s kind of besides the point. Even if the numbers are true, in a situation like this where a woman does not work, is in the home all day long, and has children, that does complicate getting a divorce by orders of magnitude. You could still be unhappy in your marriage, and still be in that situation, and not opted for a divorce, you know? So, it’s wild to me that he doesn’t see that. He’s like the numbers on paper equal the emotion. Which is just not always gonna be the case, my good sir.
Courtney: But then in his defense, he says that, [reading] “These women are not naturally vicious. They have not gone wrong because their principles are perverted. They are not, as a rule, intellectual anarchists who have come to the conclusion that the conventional moral code is wrong and that the laws of marriage are neither divine nor just. On the contrary, they are conscience-stricken, they are terrified by their own act. Many of them are heartbroken and filled with shame. It is pitiful to hear their letters read in court, letters to their husbands pleading for forgiveness, asking for “another chance,” or trying, feebly, to throw the blame on the man, and to whitewash themselves as much as possible.” [...] “Occasionally they give tragic pictures of their idle lives, so lacking in interest, so barren, so boring. There is another phrase which crops up again and again: ‘Oh, I was bored — bored — bored!’”
Courtney: [continues reading] “Above all she has been brought up on romantic fiction, and that is always on the side of the angels. The modern problem novel has arrested her intellect, has startled her, challenged her, given her “notions”; but in her heart of hearts she believes in the old-fashioned code of morals, in the sweet old virtues. [...] The way of escape through the Divorce Court door is not a way to happiness. It is a way to remorse, to secret agonies, to a life-long wretchedness. Her second husband, if he “plays the game” according to the rules of the world, is not to be envied. Between him and this woman there are old ghosts. This way of escape is into a haunted house.”
Courtney: So, Eighth Year, woman can’t handle it anymore. First Option: divorce. But you will heed a haunted existence if you choose that path. So if you don’t opt for divorce, what is the second option? Well, the second option is to become a suffragette. [reading] “Thousands, and tens of thousands of women who pass through the Eighth Year, not unscathed, find another way out. They are finding it now through this new feminist movement which is linked up with the cause of Women’s Suffrage. The Eighth Year produces many suffragettes, [laughs] militant and otherwise. At first, in the first years of their married life, they scoffed at the idea of Votes for Women. They could not see the sense of it. They hated the vulgarities of the business, the shamelessness of it, the ugly squalor of these scuffles with the police, these fights with the crowds, these raids on the House of Commons. It was opposed to all their ideals of femininity and to all their traditions of girlhood. – quote – “The hussies ought to be whipped,” is the verdict of the young wife in the first stage of her romantic affection. But, later on, when romance has worn very threadbare in the little home, when reality is beginning to poke its head through the drawing-room doors, she finds herself taking an interest in this strange manifestation which she seems to be inspired by some kind of madness.”
Royce: Oh, 1913…
Courtney: [laughs] So good! I also– I love that this dude is so close to getting it. He is so close to getting it. He’s like, after eight years a woman in this traditional middle-class arrangement of life doesn’t like it. She doesn’t like her husband. She doesn’t like the ‘natural man’. She doesn’t like being at home all day. And so she becomes a suffragette. Like you’re almost there. You’re almost ready to admit that she has just had her eyes opened to newer concepts of feminism, and she’s beginning to agree with them. And instead you’re like, “This is just– this is just madness induced by boredom.” [laughs] She doesn’t actually believe these things. This is just you know, her restless heart in her eighth year of marriage trying to look for a way out that isn’t divorce. [laughs] He gets so close. [laughs]
Courtney: [resumes reading] “Presently she goes out of her way to get introduced to some suffrage woman on the outskirts of her acquaintance. She is surprised to find her a wonderfully cheerful, and apparently sane, woman, very keen, very alert, and with a great sense of humor — utterly un¬ like her tired, bored and melancholy self. Perhaps she is quite a young woman, a bachelor girl, earning her own living, down in Chelsea, or as a typist secretary in the City. But young as she is she has dived into all sorts of queer studies— the relations between men and women, the divorce laws, the science of eugenics — and she discusses them with an amazing frankness, and in a most revolutionary spirit, startling, and a little appalling, at first to this wife in her Eighth Year. She has made up her mind conclusively on all the great questions of life. She pooh-poohs romantic love. “There is too much fuss made about it,” she says. “It is a mere episode, like influenza. There are bigger things.” She holds herself perfectly free to choose her mate, and to remedy any little mistake which she may make in her choice.”
Courtney: [continues reading] At present she prefers her independence and her own job, which she likes very much, thank you. She is tremendously enthusiastic about the work which women have got to do in the world, and there is nothing they cannot do, in her opinion. She claims an absolute equality with men. In fact, she is inclined to claim a superiority. After all, men are poor things… Altogether she is a most remarkable young woman, and she seems to get tremendous fun out of life — and this wife in her Eighth Year, without agreeing with her yet envies her! Or perhaps the wife meets a suffrage woman of middle-age. She, too, is a cheer¬ ful, keen, alert, bustling woman with cut- and-dried opinions on subjects about which the wife in the Eighth Year is full of doubt and perplexity.”
Courtney: [continues reading] “‘We wives, my dear,’ she says, ‘have been too long kept prisoners in upholstered cages. It is time we broke our prison windows. I am breaking other people’s windows as well. It lets in a lot of fresh air.’ [...] She sends round a lot of little pamphlets, full of dangerous ideas, ideas that sting like bees, ideas that are rather frightening to the wife in her Eighth Year. They refer to other books, which she gets out of the lending library.” – Are you ready for this? – “She reads Ibsen, [laughs] and she recognizes herself in many of those forlorn women in the plays.”
Royce: I forget our Ibsen discussion, but it came about after watching a ton of BoJack Horseman.
Courtney: Yes. Did I have to explain Ibsen to you? Because that got referenced a lot with BoJack’s Mother.
Royce: It got referenced a lot by BoJack’s mother, and then BoJack himself found himself, like, using kind of the same train of thought.
Courtney: Yes. Like, “Well, it isn’t Ibsen,” was sort of a critique of BoJack’s acting work. But also like this old-fashioned wife in a kind of a similar situation as this, just like reading Ibsen and breaking down crying, or going to the theater and coming back crying. That was such a good subtle theme in that show, and a recurring one, also. But it was also subtle enough that it was like several one-off lines across multiple episodes in multiple seasons. So it was very, very easy to miss for people who aren’t familiar with, like, playwright history.
Royce: Yeah. And that show is so dense, anyway.
Courtney: Oh, it’s so good!
Royce: It’s very easy to miss a lot of things.
Courtney: We did two full episodes just talking about Todd and his asexuality development. But I could honestly give, like, a– easily a 40-hour analysis on all of the themes in BoJack Horseman and all the things that a casual viewer might have missed. All of the brilliant callbacks and brilliant character development. I’m truly utterly obsessed with that show. But it’s the subtleties like Ibsen, which is so funny that I’m reading it in this Eighth Year too. Because back then he was like, “Oh, Ibsen is just giving her notions.” Which I think is something BoJack’s dad said too! Like, “Oh, she’s getting ideas.” [laughs]
Courtney: [laughs] I think it was– what was the line… I think his mom first saw A Doll’s House by Ibsen and I think it was like, oh, she wa– Or maybe BoJack’s dad was like, “Oh, she watched the Doll’s House and now she’s getting ideas.”
Courtney: I think that was the line.
Royce: I think that sounds right.
Courtney: And then I believe, really quick spoiler warning, if anybody hasn’t seen BoJack and wants to. In the very last season, maybe even the last episode or second-to-last, BoJack is in jail because that’s a show that gives consequences to those who deserve them. He actually is putting on a prison production of a play. And– Oh, I’m trying to think of what play that was. It was Ibsen. It was an Ibsen play. So I was like, “Oh, my God, he’s doing Ibsen!” Hedda Gabler maybe?
Royce: Yeah. That was it.
Courtney: [resumes reading] “It is a queer business, this suffrage movement, which sets these women aflame. [...] They want the vote’ honestly, as a weapon to give their sex greater power, greater independence, better conditions of life in the labor market. But the rank and file have no such intellectual purpose, though they make use of the same arguments and believe that they are the mainsprings of their actions. In reality they are Eighth Year women.” [laughs] It is a movement of revolt against all the trammels of sex relationship which have come down through savagery to civilization; laws evolved out of the inherited experience of tribes and races for the protection of womanhood and the functions of womanhood, laws of repression, of restraint, for the sake of the children of the race; duties exacted by the social code again for the sake of the next generation. Having revolted against the duties of motherhood, all these laws, these trammels, these fetters, become to them intolerable, meaningless, exasperating. The scheme of monogamy breaks down. It has no deep moral purpose behind it, because the family is not complete. The scheme has been frustrated by the childlessness of the wife. Again, this movement is a revolt against the whole structure of modern society as it affects the woman — against the very architecture of the home; against all those tiny flats, those small suburban houses in which women are cramped and confined and cut off from the large world.”
Courtney: That very much echoes, like I said, modern sentiments where we hear these usually Christian, usually conservative, people saying, you know, the nuclear family is the backbone of all of society and if you don’t follow this structure, then the entire foundation of society is at risk. But I also just love the fact that they’re like, “Well, they revolted against motherhood. So now all of these rules, all of these arbitrary rules that society has made, doesn’t mean anything to them. Even monogamy breaks down.” Yes! Exactly! But that’s a good thing actually.
Courtney: [reading] “They find themselves growing old and still unsatisfied, growing hard, and bitter, and revengeful against those who thwart them. The problems of their sex still remain with them. They may break all the laws, but get no nearer to liberty. They are still prisoners of fate, bond-slaves to a nature which they do not understand. The feminist movement is only a temporary way of escape for the wife who has reached her crisis in the Eighth Year.” So we have divorce, which is a haunted escape, and we have become a suffragette, which is a temporary escape. But [resumes reading] “There is another way and it has many doors. It is religion.” Women who do not turn to the suffrage movement turn instead to religion. And they take to it as if it is a– he calls it like a type of emotional excitement and an adventure. So this isn’t just, “I’m casually Christian,” this is Christianity is now my entire identity, I am throwing all of my free time and thought and emotion into religion.
Courtney: The interesting thing about that though is that he and other men of the era do not think that that is a good thing. He says, “It is a curious and lamentable thing that although it has been proved conclusively by all masters of philosophy and by all great thinkers, that some form of religion is an essential need in the heart of women, the whole tendency of the time is to rob them of this spiritual guidance and comfort. Religion is not a part of the social scheme of things in these “intellectual mansions,” and in the small suburban houses of the professional classes.” [...] “They become frankly agnostic and smile at their neighbors who put on top-hats and silk dresses and stroll to church on a Sunday morning. It seems to them absurdly “Early Victorian.” For they have read a great number of little books by the latest writers, who publish their philosophy in sevenpenny editions, and they have reached an intellectual position when they have a smattering of knowledge on the subject of evolution, anthropology, the origins of religion, literature and dogma, and the higher criticism.”
Courtney: They start reading of philosophers. But in reading of philosophers and other intellectual pursuits the wife’s spiritual nature is starved. And if they fall too hard into Christianity, like going to church every day, going to church a couple times a day... Apparently many husbands of the era believed that to be completely unhealthy. So only– only a little religion as a necessity, but no more. You know, everything in moderation, I suppose. [laughs] But because of the fact that the social class doesn’t think that too much Christianity is a good thing, there is another more dangerous alternative, and that is spiritualism. The woman can become a psychic because her spiritual appetite is just so hungry for food. But quote, “In hundreds of cases these women take to the queerest kinds of spiritual food, some of it very poisonous stuff. Any impostor with a new creed may get hold of them. Any false prophet may dupe them into allegiance. They get into the hands of peculiar people. They are tempted to go to a spiritualistic seance and listen to the jargon of spiritualism.”
Courtney: “They go forward into these “mysteries,” and are obsessed by them. It appears they are “psychical.” Undoubtedly after a little practice they could get into touch with the spirit- world. With planchette and table-rapping, and with mediumistic guidance, they may learn the secrets of the ghost-world, and invoke the aid of spirits in their little household. It becomes a mania with them. It becomes, in many cases, sheer madness. There are other women who seek their spiritual salvation among the clairvoyants and crystal-gazers and palmists of the West End.” But he says, of course, it’s better if they can grow up their way back to the old Christian faith, that that one is better. And he does state that, “There would be no fatal significance about the Eighth Year if the old religion were still of vital influence in the home.” So there we have it, as well. Christianity and the mandate of cis straight couples having children. This has indeed been a long-standing phenomenon.
Courtney: [resumes reading] “Life, at its best, is a disappointing business. [...] There are not many women nowadays who find this way of escape, for religion has gone out of fashion, like last year’s hats, and it wants a lot of pluck to wear a last year’s hat. And besides, the husband does not like it. He discourages religion, except in homoeopathic doses, taken by way of a little tonic, as one goes to the theatre for a pick-me-up. As he remarks, he does not believe in women being too spiritual. It is not “healthy.” If his wife goes to church with any regularity he suspects there is an attractive cleric round the corner. And sometimes he is right.” Now– So those are– those are the options for the woman. I mean, she needs to either get divorced, or become a suffragette, or become a Christian, or become a spiritualist. Christian’s the only like fully acceptable one here, even if her husband doesn’t like it. But what about the husband? How is he feeling at the eighth year? We haven’t heard much from him. Well, he’d really like it if she’d bring his slippers to him, like she used to. He’d really like it if she still showered him with endearing words.
Courtney: Quote, “He has his own grievances. He is not without troubles of soul and body. He has had to face disappointment, disillusionment, hours of blank pessimism. He has had to get to grips with reality, after the romanticism of his youth, and to put a check upon his natural instincts and desires. In many ways it is harder for the man than for the woman.” Wooow! Oh no, she’s going so crazy holed up in a house where she’s not allowed to do anything. She doesn’t get to vote. She still in many ways societally has to submit to her husband, but the poor man! She doesn’t bring his slippers anymore. It’s so much harder for him! [resumes reading] “Civilization and the monogamous code have not been framed on easy lines for men. To keep the ordinary rules of his caste he must put a continual restraint upon himself, make many sacrifices. Women and wives forget that human nature has not changed because men wear black coats and tall hats instead of the skins of beasts. Human nature is exactly the same as it ever was, strong and savage, but it has to be tamed and repressed within the four walls of a flat in West Kensington, or within a semi-detached house at Wimbledon.”
Courtney: [reading] “He has his temptations. He hears siren voices calling him. He sees the lure of the witch-women. To feel his pulse thrill to the wine of life, to get the fever of joy in his blood again, to plunge into the fiery lake of passion, are temptations from which he does not escape because he is Something in the City, or a barrister-at-law, and a married man with a delicate wife. But, being a man, with a man’s work, and a man’s ambition, he keeps his sanity, and quite often his self-respect. His eyes are clear enough to see the notice-boards on the boundary lines of the forbidden territory, “Trespassers will be prosecuted,” “Please keep off the grass,” “No thoroughfare.” He locks up the gate to the little Bohemia in his heart, and puts the key into a secret cupboard of his brain. He understands quite clearly that if he once “goes off the rails,” as he calls it, his ambitions will be frustrated and his career spoiled.”
Courtney: My personal fan theory is that this is just Philip Gibbs writing about himself as if he was writing about someone else. [laughs]
Royce: He just changed the names a little?
Courtney: He didn’t even give the man a name. It’s like, “The man and his wife Winifred.” This is him making his case that the Eighth Year is a thing, and he is trying to show the pattern that without question, with statistics backing it up, happens to all middle class child-free couples. But then he goes on to say, like, if he once goes off the rails, “As he calls it,” who is he? What are you doing? [reading] “The creed of his social code, of the pot- hatted civilization, of this suburban conventionality of these little private snob-doms,” I like that, I like snob-doms, “is stronger in the man than in the woman. When she once takes the hit between her teeth, as it were, she becomes utterly lawless. But the man reins himself in more easily. He finds it on the whole less difficult to be law-abiding. He has also a clearer vision of the logic of things. He knows that certain results follow certain causes. He can measure up the consequences of an act, and weigh them. He is guided by his brain rather than by his emotions. He has certain fixed principles deeply rooted in him.”
Courtney: So he’s like, yeah, it’s so much harder for the man than the woman, but the man… It’s easy for him to follow the rules because he has a brain and he uses it. [reading] “However much his nerves may he jangled, and goodness knows they are often jangled, especially as the Eighth Year draws near, he is generally master of himself. At least he does not, as a rule, have hysterical outbursts, or give rein to passionate impulses, or suddenly take some wild plunge, upsetting all the balance of his life. He does not take frightful risks, as a woman will always take them, recklessly, when she reaches her crisis.
Courtney: So it is that he looks coldly upon his wife’s desires for some new emotional activity, of whatever kind it may be, religious, political, or ethical. He hates any symptoms of fanaticism. He shivers at any breach of good form. He would like her always to be sitting in the drawing-room when he comes home, in a pretty frock, with a novel on her lap, and a smile in her eyes. He does not and will not understand that this childless wife of his must have strong interests outside her little home to save her from eating her heart out. He hides from himself the fact that her childlessness is a curse which is blighting her.”
Courtney: [continues reading] “Snobbishness is one of the causes which lead to the Eighth Year, and not the least among them. It is an essentially middle-class snobbishness, and has grown up, like a fungus growth, with that immense and increasing class of small, fairly well-to-do households who have come into being with the advance of material prosperity during the past twenty-five years, and with the progress of elementary education, and all that it has brought with it in the form of new desires for pleasure, amusement and more luxuries. [...] The seeds of snobbishness are sown before marriage. The modern son pooh-poohs the habits of his old-fashioned father. They are not good enough for him. [...] One tie on week-days and another tie for Sundays are still good enough for the father, but the son buys ties by the dozen, and then has a passion for fancy socks, and lets his imagination rove into all departments of haberdashery.” [chuckles] There you have it: fancy socks, ruins of marriages. [laughs]
Courtney: [reading] “He becomes a ‘Nut’,” [both laughing] And nut is capitalized and put in quotation marks. [laughs] He becomes a Nut! And what is becoming a nut according to Phillip Gibbs? [reading] his evenings are devoted to a variety of amusements, which does away with a good deal of money. He smokes a special brand of cigarettes. He hires a motor-car occasionally for a spin down to Brighton.” And he likes fancy socks. What a nut! [laughs] What a nut… As for the wife, well, [reading] “She’s quite a nice girl, naturally, but her chief vice is vanity. She is eaten up with it. It is a consuming passion.” And I actually have this really great– I mean, all this talk of like, wearing last year’s hats and consuming passions of vanity, I have this amazing postcard from 1909 that has a picture of a skeleton putting on a hat in front of a vanity and it says, “The ruling passion, strong in death. Is my hat on straight?” And that’s one of my favorite things ever. I will try to post a picture of it on Twitter.
Courtney: [resumes reading] “Their little household is a shrine to the great god Snob. They are his worshippers.” And like, every time he says ‘great god Snob’, snob is capitalized, as if- as if Snob is actually a god. But as for the man, [reading] “He does not guess that this worship of his great gob–” great Gob. Gob Snob, “his great god Snob is a devil’s worship, having devilish results for himself and her. [...] The woman–” on the other hand, “revolts from the evil spell of her laziness. She finds some work for her idle hands to do – good work or bad. If only those idle women would find some good work to do in the Eighth Year.” If they could do that, why, it would lose all its terrors now, wouldn’t it?
Courtney: And so then we find our next means of escape from the Eighth Year, and that is volunteering. And after all, already, “They sing little drawing-room ballads quite well, until they get sick of the sound of their own singing in their lonely little drawing-rooms. But they do not think of singing in the hospitals, and the workhouse wards, where their voices would give joy to suffering people, or miserable people who do not often hear the music of life.”
Courtney: [reading] “These lazy women cry out that they are prisoners in upholstered cages. But there are many prisoners in stone cells, who at the prison gates, on their release, stand looking out into the cold gray world, with blank, despairing eyes, with no prospect but that of crime and vice, unless some unknown friend comes with a little warmth of human love, with a quick sympathy and a ready helpfulness. Here is work for workless women who are well-to-do.” And after all, as we know, as he formally stated, [reading] “There is no problem of the Eighth Year in Poverty Court, only the great problems of life and death, of hunger and thirst and cold, of labor and want of work. Here in the mean streets of the world is the great lesson that want of work is the greatest disaster, the greatest moral tragedy, that may happen to men and women.”
Courtney: [keeps reading] “If the idle women of the little snobdoms would come forth from their houses and flats, they would see that lesson staring them in the face, with a great warning to themselves.” [...] Here, they would find another way of escape from the perils of the Eighth Year, and a new moral health for their hearts and brains.” And even though this guy’s very pro religion, it’s very interesting that his angle on volunteering is among the more helpful ones. Because he sees no drawbacks to this one. Whereas the husband might not like it if his wife is too religious. And he says that, [reading] “It is only now and then that some woman is lucky enough to find this way out, for snobbishness enchains them, and it is difficult to break its fetters. When the woman has once taken flight, or is hesitating before taking her flight, in the Eighth Year, it is an almost hopeless business for the husband to call her back. Whenever she is called back, it is by some outside influence, beyond his sphere of influence, by some sudden accident, by some catastrophe involving both of them, or by some severe moral shock, shaking the foundations of their little home like an earthquake.”
Courtney: And so basically, he says these tragedies can involve one of them having a near-death experience, like being sick enough that they’re on their deathbed but managed to recover, or the husband losing his job so that they lose all of their income for a period of time. Because a shock like this [reading] “throws them off of their pedestals of conceit, of self-consciousness, of pretense. They stand on solid ground. The shock has broken the masks behind which they hid themselves. It has broken the hard crust about their hearts. It has shattered the idol which they worshipped, the idol of the great god Snob.” And it is then, and only then, that [reading] “They find out that this new comradeship is better even than the old romantic love of their courting days.” It makes them humble, they re-pledged themselves to each other. And then, in some cases, they finally decide to have a baby. Because that’s the best time, when you’re least financially stable. As everyone knows.
Courtney: [reading] “The wife becomes a mother, and the child chases away all the ghosts which haunted her in the Eighth Year. She no longer wants to take flight. She has been called back.” [...] “If none of these “accidents” happen, if some great influence like this does not thrust its way into the lives of this husband and wife during the crisis of the Eighth Year, if the woman is not caught up by some great enthusiasm, or if she can find no work for the idle hands to do, giving her new and absorbing interests to satisfy her heart and brain, then the Eighth Year is a fatal year, and the President of the Divorce Court has a new case added to his list, or the family records of the country chronicle another separation, or another woman goes to prison for arson or bomb-throwing.”
Royce: Why, that escalated quickly…
Courtney: [laughs] Those suffragettes. Am I right? [laughs] And then he ends this entire Part One argument of the book by saying: [reading emphatically] All the tendencies of the time, all the revolutionary ideas that are in the very air we breathe, all this modern spirit of revolt against disagreeable duties, and drudgery, and discipline, the decay of religious authority, the sapping of spiritual faith, the striving for social success, the cult of snobbishness, the new creed of selfishness which ignores the future of the race and demands a good time here and now, the lack of any ideals larger than private interests and personal comforts, the ignorance of men and women who call themselves intellectual, the nervous irritability of husbands and wives who live up to the last penny of their incomes, above all the childlessness of these women who live in small flats and suburban villas, and their utter laziness, all those signs and symptoms of our social sickness lead up, inevitably, and with fatal logic, to the tragedy of the Eighth Year.”
Courtney: And then, I’m not going to talk too much about Part Two: ‘A Demonstration’, because it’s basically all those points he just made in the form of dialogue with the fictional people. But I do want to give you just a little bit of a taste, as to– just, you know, the tone of this. Because I’m sure Mr. Philip Gibbs was being dead serious when he was writing this, but it’s– it’s actually really funny reading it today.
Courtney: So our couple in question is Mr. Herbert Heywood, and Mrs. Claire Heywood. Now, Mr. Herbert Heywood, generally described by his neighbors as being something in the city, a man of about thirty, slight, clean-shaven, boyish, good looking, and with nervous movements and extreme irritability.
Courtney: We see Claire going about her day in their flat. Their mother-in-law lives with them. And she’s driving not only Claire crazy, but their maid Mollie crazy. And she started going to Church like two or three times a day lately. Well, we know why that is. It’s in their eighth year. And so, Herbert comes home and has a conversation with his mother. And she’s like, “Hey, I’m worried about Claire, she’s been acting weird lately.” And he’s like, “Perhaps you’re right about the novel’s. They’ve been giving her notions,” or something. And he ends up, like, burning,some of her books. But as he’s going through the books, one by one, I just want to read his reactions to the titles because it’s very good.
Courtney: [reading] «“Women’s Work and Wages. Oh, Lord! John Stuart Mill on The Subjection of Women. The Ethics of Ibsen. Great Scott! The Principles of Eugenics. . . . My hat!”» [laughs] As a side note, I think I’m going to start saying ‘my hat!’ instead of ‘my God!’ because I have more hats than I have gods. And also it’s just an objectively hilarious thing to say in 2023. So Claire, in addition to going to church several times a day, has made a new friend, Madge Vernon, and she comes over and they have a little conversation. And this little back-and-forth is, like, hilarious, but also very, very redundant, based on the first half of this book. But just done in a sillier way. [reading] «Then presently Clare said: “I feel as if something were going to happen; as if something must happen or break.” “About time, my dear,” said Madge. “How long have you been married?” “Eight years,” said Clare, in a casual way. Madge Vernon whistled with a long-drawn note of ominous meaning. “The Eighth Year, eh?” “Yes, it’s our eighth year of marriage.” “That’s bad,” said Madge. “The Eighth Year! You’ll have to be very careful, Claire.”
Courtney: [still reading] «Claire was startled. “What do you mean?” She asked. “Haven’t you heard?” Said Miss Vernon. “Heard what?” “I thought everybody knew.” “Knew what?” asked Claire anxiously. Madge Vernon looked at her in a pitying way. “It’s in the evidence on the Royal Commission on Divorce.” “What is?” “About the Eighth Year?” “What about it?” asked Claire. She was beginning to feel annoyed. What was Madge hiding from her? “Why,” said Madge, “about it being the fatal year in marriage.” “The Fatal year?” The girl leaned forward in her chair and said in a solemn way: “There are more divorces begun in the Eighth Year than in any other period.” Claire Heywood was scared. “Good gracious!” she said, in a kind of whisper. “It’s a psychological fact,” said Madge. “I work it out in this way. In the first and second years a wife is absorbed in the experiment of marriage and in the sentimental phase of love. In the third and fourth years she begins to study her husband and to find him out. In the fifth and sixth years, having found him out completely, she makes a working compromise with life and tries to make the best of it. In the seventh and eighth years she begins to find out herself, and then...” “And then?” asked Clare, very anxiously.
Courtney: [still reading] «Claire Haywood was profoundly disturbed. “Well, then,” said Madge, “there is the devil to pay!” “Dear God!” she cried. “You see, it’s like this. If a woman has no child she gets bored. . . . She can’t help getting bored, poor soul. Her husband is so devoted to her that he provides her with every opportunity for getting bored — extra servants, extra little luxuries, and what he calls a beautiful little home. Ugh!” She stared round the room and made a face.“He is so intent on this that he nearly works himself to death. Comes home with business thoughts in his head. Doesn’t notice his wife’s wistful eyes, and probably dozes off to sleep after supper. Isn’t that so?” “Yes,” said Claure. “Horribly so.” ““Well, then, having got bored, she gets emo¬ tional. Of course the husband doesn’t notice that either. He’s not emotional. He is only wondering how to make both ends meet. But when his wife begins to get emotional, when she feels that something has broken here” (she put her hand to her heart)» [chuckles] That’s– that’s in parentheses.
Courtney: [resumes reading] «“when she feels like crying at unexpected moments and laughing at the wrong time, why then…” “What?” asked Claire. “Why, then, it’s about time the husband began to notice things, or things will begin to happen to his wife which he won’t jolly well like. That’s all!” Claire Heywood searched her friend’s face with hungry eyes. “Why, what will his wife do?” “Well, there are various alternatives. She either takes to religion…” “Ah!” said Claire, flushing a little. “Or to drink…” “Oh, no!” said Clare, shuddering a little. “Or to some other kind of man,” said Madge very calmly. Claire Haywood was agitated and alarmed. “How do you know these things?” she asked. “Oh, I’ve studied ’em,” said Madge Vernon carefully. “Of course there’s always another alternative.” “What’s that?” asked Claire eagerly. “Work,” said Madge Vernon solemnly. “What kind of work?” “Oh, any kind, so long as it’s absorbing and satisfying. Personally I like breaking things. One must always begin by breaking before one begins building. But it’s very exciting.”
Courtney: [still reading] «“It must be terribly exciting.” “For instance,” said Madge, laughing quietly, “it’s good to hear a pane of glass go crack.” “How does it make you feel?” asked Claire Heywood. “Oh,” said Madge, “it gives one a jolly feeling down the spine. You should try it.” “I daren’t,” said Claire. “It would do you a lot of good. It would get rid of your megrims. Besides, it’s in a good cause.” “I am not so sure of that,” said Claire. “It’s in the cause of women’s liberty. It’s in the cause of all these suburban wives imprisoned in these stuffy little homes. It lets in God’s fresh air.”» So… it’s hilarious. [laughs]
Royce: Yeah, it doesn’t seem to really add anything. It seems more like an alternate telling of the first part of the book, like, read one or the other.
Courtney: And yeah, because then the story goes on. Her husband comes home again. He’s often, like, coming right home to change and go to the gentlemen’s club, and it just shows her getting more and more frustrated. And at a certain point she just can’t handle it anymore and she picks up a large China vase from the piano and just hurls it through her own window. And nobody having seen her do this, but just heard the window crash, and then seeing it broken, everyone’s like, “Oh, good Heavens! Whatever happened?” Then she’s like, [reading] «“I think something must have broken,” she said. Then she gave a queer, strident laugh.» [laughs] And I was like, this could be so feminist.
Royce: So the back section of this book is divided into three chapters. Are those three independent stories?
Courtney: No, that’s– When she breaks the window and says that, that’s the end of chapter 1.
Royce: Oh, okay.
Courtney: But yeah, then she ends up, like, actually trying to talk to her husband a little bit, being like, “We have to talk, it’s the eighth year!” And he’s like, “What are you going on about?” Of course he’s like, “Oh, it’s not healthy to be going to church as often as you are.” And, you know, just being a horrible, horrible man from 1913 generally, he kind of dismisses her and then he’s like, “Well, it isn’t my fault that you’re like this, what’s going on?” And she’s like, “Well, it’s not my fault either.” And he’s like, “Well, whose fault is it?” And she says, [reading] «“I don’t know, I suppose it’s the fault of the system, which is spoiling thousands of marriages just like ours. It’s the fault which is found out… in the Eighth Year.” “Oh, curse the Eight Year,” said Herbert violently. “What is that bee you have got in your bonnet?” She says, “It’s a bee which keeps buzzing in my brain. It’s a little bee which whispers queer words to me — tempting words. It says you must break away from the system or the system will break you. You must find a way of escape or die. You must do it quickly, now, to-night, or it will be too late. Herbert, a hungry woman will do desperate things to satisfy her appetite, and I am hungry for some stronger emotion than I can find within these four walls. I am hungry for love, hungry for work, hungry for life. If you can’t give it to me, I must find it elsewhere.”»
Courtney: And this is where I’m like, this would be a wonderfully hilarious stage play, with a few tweaks. Because she ends up having an actual little stint as a suffragette, which is interesting. Because they’re supposed to be entertaining one night and the husband’s like, “Oh, don’t you like At Homes?” And she’s like, “Not anymore, no.” So she goes to, like, change, or get ready or something, and then must just, like, escape out the window or something. Because she just leaves. And everyone’s like, “Oh, where is she? What’s going on?” And then Madge Vernon comes in and is like, “Hey, she just got arrested at the demonstration. You gotta go bail her out.” And everyone’s like, “Egad!” But then, after– after that little stint and getting arrested, she gets some more sense in her, you know, she starts volunteering more and, and of course, becomes pregnant. And that’s how it ends. With this man being like, “I’m so glad you’ve been called back to me.” And that– that’s– that’s the story. That’s– that’s– The Eighth Year, that’s how that ends. [laughs]
Courtney: He’s so close. [laughs] It’s also just so– like if this is one of the earlier instances of getting this concept into the broader cultural consciousness, it’s so funny to me that people still, like, whispered and warned about The Seven Year Itch. Because this is so unrecognizable to, like, our 8th year of marriage. Like, um, I haven’t become a suffragette. And thank God, Thank my hat! Because I think the modern equivalent of suffragettes is actually TERFs. They’ve been using the suffragette colors as their little, like, online bios, and badges and things. And that’s… We have feelings about that. But I haven’t become a suffragette. I haven’t turned to spiritualism. I don’t have a bee in my bonnet.
Royce: You have done a fair amount of reading about spiritualism. And we have a lot of bees in our backyard.
Courtney: We do! We do have bees in the backyard. [laughs] And of course I do some reading about spiritualism. I mean, a very good friend of mine, like, literally has a PhD on the subject of spiritualism. It is fascinating, we love it. But I don’t subscribe to it. I like the history of it. But no, I don’t– I don’t think we’ll be getting divorced anytime soon. I don’t think I will be turning to Christianity anytime soon. And I don’t think we’re going to have a baby anytime soon. [laughs] And yet we seem to be doing just fine.
Royce: Oh, could you consider community involvement a form of volunteering?
Courtney: [pensive noises]
Royce: It’s not in the traditional sense.
Courtney: I think someone could make the argument for it, but I wouldn’t. I suppose just because I have done a lot of diverse forms of volunteering over the course of my life, and it does just feel different. But I don’t think I’d begrudge someone else who would define it that way, necessarily. But then again, I guess, we don’t live with a mother-in-law. You don’t go outside of the house to work all day. You’re also not a man.
Royce: We also don’t pay people to do our day-to-day chores.
Courtney: True. [laughs]
Royce: And we have hobbies that are not binge reading romance novels.
Courtney: That’s true.
Royce: Although the number of dating Sims we played recently…
Courtney: Yes, but you see, we play those together. It’s not just me alone at home all day playing dating sims. [laughs]
Royce: So that’s the issue. If – what’s his name – Herbert had just read some of the romance novels as well, if they would have discussed the characters in those romance novels together–
Courtney: Then maybe she wouldn’t have had to read Ibsen after all. [laughs]
Royce: Maybe the vase would have stayed in its location [Courtney laughs] instead of being ejected through the window.
Courtney: It was so funny because then Madge Vernon was like, “Oh, good for you! I never thought of breaking my own window.” [laughs] So yeah, hilarious read, hilarious antiquated, anti-feminist yet kind of lightly aromantic, piece of literature.
Royce: Which, if anyone is curious this is old enough to be in the public domain, and it’s available in text form for free online.
Courtney: Yes. Which, we could probably put a link to the description– in– if you’d like.
Royce: Probably, I think–
Courtney: But we just gave a pretty thorough overview of it.
Royce: Yeah, we did. I think I found a copy just in Project Gutenberg.
Courtney: Oh, yeah Gutenberg does a lot of good work for those older texts. Well though, the really hilarious thing too was that I had read snippets of it online, but I wanted to actually get a physical copy of the book so that I could, you know, mark it up and write some notes and things. And so, we found just a modern reprint online, for not very much money, and when it came, it’s like, all done up in Ace Pride colors. [laughs] And I had no idea. But it is a white, purple, and black soft cover book. And I was like, “Huh! Now what– what is this telling us?” Because I suppose, if an entire marriage is predicated upon the initial spark of romantic and or sexual attraction – and that is something that fades over time – I suppose that could be an issue. But if you didn’t have it to begin with, then you can’t lose it. Start on a stronger foundation. Dare I say.
Courtney: So on that note we are moving forward into our ninth year of married life. We have survived the fatal eighth year. The Greek tragedy that is the eighth year! Our lives just aren’t exciting enough anymore, just being at home all day every day, to be a Greek tragedy. [laughs] I think, as of the day that this is released, it will be the day after our anniversary. So we are already in the ninth year. We are already in the clear. We’re safe! Don’t worry about us guys. [laughs] But now, maybe you’ll have some fun little quotes and tidbits to throw around, if you ever hear anyone out in the wild whispering about the seven year itch. So onward to year nine. As always, thank you all so much for being here. Please do whatever thing you need to do on whatever platform you’re listening to us on. That’s YouTube, like, and comment, subscribing. Places like Spotify and Apple, go ahead and give us a follow, a subscribe. A nice rating and review would be fabulous, we would appreciate you so much. And we will talk to you all next time.