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TO MARY VAN DEUSEN: A letter of correction: On spouses marrying to improve or manage one another; and on mothers-in-law interfering in the marriages of their children.
14 September 1953
I am just back from Donegal (which was heavenly) and find as usual a ghastly pile of unanswered letters, so I must be brief. The important idea of a Christian sanatorium is worth a whole letter, but I want to use this one for another subject. I hope you won’t be angry at what I’m going to say—
I think that idea of Genia’s job being to concentrate on ‘bringing out the best of Eddie’ is really rather dangerous. Wouldn’t you yourself think it sounded—well, to put it bluntly, a bit priggish, if applied to any other couple? It sounds as if the poor chap were somehow infinitely inferior.
Are you giving full weight to the very raw deal he has had in marrying a girl who has nearly always been ill? Men haven’t got your maternal instinct, you know. To find a patient where one hoped for a helpmeet is much more frustrating for the husband than for the wife. And by all I hear he has come through the test very well. But if just as she is ceasing to be a patient she were to become the self-appointed Governess or Improver—well, would any camel’s back stand that last straw? I don’t think Genia is at present inclined (or not much) to start ‘educating’ her husband. I am sure you will take care not to influence her in that direction. Because, really, you know, it would be so easy, without in the least intending it, to glide into the rôle (I shudder to write it) of the traditional home-breaking mother-in-law. All those old jokes have something behind them.
I do hope I haven’t made you an enemy for life. If I have taken too great a liberty, you have rather led me into it. And I did feel signs of danger. And don’t you think in general that a girl who has a faithful, kind, sober husband (there are so many of the other kind) whom she has promised to love, honour, and obey, had better just get on with the job? Do forgive me if I misunderstand and put the point too crudely. At any rate, my prayers will not cease.
• From The Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis
• Compiled in Yours, Jack