Gender in The Bishop’s Wife (divorced of context)


bishrevThe Bishop’s Wife has a lot to say about male/female relations (and a lot about marriage in particular) and about the different roles of men and women in this particular Mormon community (from which we are free to extrapolate). I’m not ready to draw many conclusions regarding just what the novel is saying—that will be done better as more people read and begin debating motwaaw—meaning being, of course, ultimately, a very personal thing—but I want to provide some out-of-context quotations for your preliminary consideration.

Brethren, please check your privilege before proceeding.

Note: As I said last time, I will correct obvious errors, marking them with [molaq] and mark likely errors I can’t correct with [sic]. I will note location with chapter numbers and, if necessary for purposes of this post or to prevent spoilers, disguise characters and events via substitutions enclosed in brackets or through the omission of quotation marks. Sometimes I add comments in italics after the chapter number.

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We say that mothering is “natural,” but it isn’t really. Animals in the wild feed their children and carry them around—most of the time. They also sometimes eat them. That is just as natural, as far as I could see. (24)

. . . I could see suddenly a little-girl version of her not so very hidden inside, a little girl who was also used to pain. ¶ . . . And the vulnerability was made possible by the hierarchy as it stood now. Could that possibly be God’s purpose? (30)

Well, I didn’t care what God had to say about this. God was a man, too, and as far as I was concerned, until I heard Heavenly Mother tell me how to deal with a little girl in shock and fear, I wasn’t going to listen. (23)

I felt like that now, like after all the horror [she] had experienced, she had come out of it somehow and made beauty. She made herself beautiful, even if she didn’t know it. God did. And now I did too. (30)

I just felt this niggling sense that things weren’t quite what they seemed to be. Or maybe it was that I wanted [a woman] to be better than she was. She’d been a good mother, I thought, and she’d been an interesting thinker. I hated to imagine that I had been so duped, and it was worse somehow to be duped by another woman than a man. (21) I left myself a note in the margins on this one: “war of the sexes: LDS version”—possibly a Thurber reference. Not sure what I was getting at. . . .

The Adam and Eve story might be about women making the wrong choice in other religions, but in Mormonism, it is all about Eve making the right choice, even if it meant facing difficult consequences. (2)

Cheri and I stayed late cleaning up. . . . I helped Cheri until we locked up about nine. ¶ We had to get all the garbage out to the dumpster, turn off every light, vacuum all the floors, and clean the bathrooms. And that was after we had finished in the kitchen, washing every dish by hand because there was no dishwasher, and then drying them and placing them back in the cupboards. Wiping down every counter, and then mopping the floors, cleaning out the refrigerator, scrubbing the stove tops and inside the oven. (19) Every ward has those who stick around until everything is done. I don’t know if in most wards it is women who fill this role, but it is and should be in The Bishop’s Wife—either because this work is appropriate for the least of these or because they, in the end, shall be cheifest. Which is it? Well, literature is the question minus the answer, right?

Repenting of domestic violence might be possible, but I didn’t want to count on it. (9)

His hair was darker than his daughter’s, but it was clear where she got the messy mop. (1)

In three weeks, I would find out if I was going to have a granddaughter. The thought terrified me. How could I protect a girl in this world? Somehow it didn’t seem the right time for the next generation to start being born. (24)

Privacy cannot exist in a marriage, even when it should, even when it is healthy. (6)

He was supposed to think of any sexual feelings as wrong as suppress them, according to the church. (4)

Anna wore no more makeup than I did, which was a rarity in Utah these days. Women of every age here wore makeup, even to the gym. (18)

“. . . Maybe [he] didn’t want her to take the money,” I said. Mormon men could be very prickly about that. I had once suggested to Kurt, early on in our marriage that I could work nights and he could watch the kids. He had objected strenuously. At first I thought it was because he was afraid of being left alone with them. It was only after weeks of teasing the truth out of him that I realized it was a blow to his pride for me to admit I thought he wasn’t earning enough money to provide well for his family. (29)

No one who had a baby or was in the hospital ever went without a week’s worth of hot homemade meals delivered by the Relief Society sisters. . . . (2)

. . . I drive her to a condo complex where Kurt sometimes sent women who needed to be away from their husbands for a while before they decided on what their next step would be. (26) How often does this happen? Even if this were Kurt’s fifth year as bishop, would he really have a regular halfway house?

“. . . I feel so strange, as if I’m reinventing myself suddenly. I thought I was done with that sort of self-searching.” ¶ I wasn’t finished with it myself. Maybe it was something that mothers had to do later in life, because we spent so much time not being ourselves, taking care of others. Or maybe it was because we were women and had worried too much about fitting the expectations of others. (29)

[He] looked angry, but there was a thread of panic in his anger. It sounded like he cared more about his own vanity than his daughter’s death—or his granddaughter. (28) This reminded me of nothing so much as Shylock’s ducats. How sympathetic are we meant to be, if this appearance approves true?

He was the one who was superior. He had better access to God. He had the priesthood and could use it to give blessings, to call down God’s voice with his own words. What did I have? I was a mother, and I had lost my way. . . . (31)

She is a girl. She belongs to her father. Not to me. (34)

Mothers never worry over nothing, but it is true that sometimes we worry over things we can’t control. (2)

How are Perdita and Jonathan? (19) The names of this young married couple suggest, on her side, perdition, and on his, friendship. The names seem to suggest that their not-entire-preferred manner of starting off married life casts more aspersions upon the fresh wife than upon the fresh husband.

What do you know about the priesthood? About the heavens and the place of the gods there? You are a woman. (34)

Being a mother was exciting enough, and I was glad for the times when it wasn’t. (36)

When you’re married, you fall more in love. And then suddenly it’s like my legs have been cut out from underneath me. I don’t know how to stand on my own. (9)

A holy man makes everything holy that he touches. (34)

. . . at least she looked beautiful and strong, the kind of woman men should want to marry. (36)

Women don’t have any official authority in the Mormon church, but any man who ignores the real power of women in the church is an idiot. (9)

We went to bed and kept mostly to our own sides. I woke up several times during the night and found myself snuggled up next to him, and pulled away. (23)

I am a happily married woman myself, but marriage is a dangerous covenant. When both people are honest and good, it is still difficult to live together so intimately, day in and day out. But no one is perfectly good or honest. And so marriage becomes a dance over hot coals and metal spikes. We contort ourselves trying to disguise one habit or another, trying to pretend to love one part or another of our partner’s that we don’t. All so that we can get along. (6)

Being a good wife means telling him the truth as best you can. It means dealing with the hard stuff together. It means having courage to face the world, and having even more courage to face God together. (2)

Woe betide any bishop who told the Relief Society president she couldn’t do a meeting on the theme she had she had selected. She had been given the right to revelation for her specific needs. . . . (9)

You give her one hundred percent because no marriage works unless both people are giving all they can. And if it feels like [she] isn’t giving as much as you are, get on your knees. . . . Ask God to show you what you aren’t seeing. Because we are all blind. . . . And that is true nowhere more than in marriage. (2)

She’ll need a lot of substitute mothers. (1)

. . . sometimes the explanation was that men took advantage of the power they had over their wives, in society and in the church. Even the kindest men in the church had no idea of the many ways in which they made their wives and daughters into lesser persons than their sons and fellow male church members. “I wouldn’t be where I am today without my wife,” they say. . . . But what they are also saying is that their wives have given up their personal ambitions in favor of the ambitions of their husbands. (5)

Mormon men protect their daughters, but they encourage and cheer on their sons. (5)

It was selfish, but people are sometimes selfish. Sometimes even mothers. Perhaps mothers especially, since they spent to much time being unselfish. (1)


more posts on The Bishop’s Wife

6 thoughts on “Gender in The Bishop’s Wife (divorced of context)”

  1. Hmm. The book as a whole feels very true to me, and so do all of these excerpts. If they don’t all contain objective truth, they certainly are subjective truths that contribute to the whole, rounded, complex character that is Linda Wallheim.

    My husband has been a bishop twice, so I identified with Linda more closely than some might. (Yes, there really are places that become like halfway houses, at least in our experience.) There’s so much going on in the average ward than the casual observer of a Sacrament Meeting might think.

    I’m slightly miffed that you quote the scene in which Linda pulls away from Kurt, but not the scene in which he follows her up the stairs and asks her how tired she is. I feel like you can’t have one without the other to describe their physical relationship accurately.

    I look forward to the thoughts of others; I really loved this book and am probably not very objective about it.

  2. .

    I tried hard to pick scenes that would either be difficult to identify but man, Luisa, you just gave away the speaker of that one!

    My wife is loving this novel now as she reads it, more than I did. I like it a lot. She is enraptured.

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