I won’t be quiet.
Mrs. Caudle’s Curtain Lectures by Douglas William Jerrold is a collection of 37 lectures given by a Victorian wife to her husband Mr. Caudle. These fictitious, comical lectures, authored by Douglas Jerrold, first appeared in Punch in 1845. Although the lectures are over 150 years old, they remain amusing, and this, no doubt, says a great deal about the immutability of the matrimonial state.
The lectures are delivered by Mrs. Caudle to her long-suffering husband, and are usually spawned after he commits some minor infraction. Mrs. Caudle’s modus operandi is to wait for her husband to come to bed and then pounce on her exhausted victim as he tries to sleep. She rationalises that in the bedroom, there’s no escape for her hapless husband. She chooses that moment to dredge up the infraction and then escalates the consequences until they takes on significant, social importance that ultimately culminates (in her mind) in the ruin of the Caudle family. One lecture, for example is delivered as the result of Mr. Caudle lending an umbrella to a friend. This simple kindness quickly escalates into the projection that Mrs. Caudle will become ill because she doesn’t have the use of an umbrella, the children won’t be able to go to school–moreover, the disappearance of the umbrella is all part Mr. Caudle’s plot to ruin his wife’s relationship with his much loathed mother-in-law. In another lecture, Mr. Caudle defiantly stays out late at a pub, and when he returns, his wife tells him this sort of behaviour inevitably results in a jail sentence, time on the treadmill, and a life of poverty.
Some of the lectures begin with Mrs. Caudle fussing over her husband, and these lectures lead to her trying to wheedle something out of him–money, a country home or a holiday.
The author successfully hits major common domestic arguments–the installation of an unpopular mother-in-law, the ne’er do well friends who represent a threat to current domestic arrangements, the forgotten wedding anniversary, and the spectre of ‘the other woman’. While Mrs. Caudle’s lectures are presented entirely uninterrupted, each lecture is structured to mirror Mr. Caudle’s pitiful defenses (such as they are) to his wife’s endless nagging. For example, Mrs. Caudle asks her husband why he is groaning, punching the pillow, or why he is pleading to heaven. These simple asides conjure up the most marvelous images of the despairing Mr. Caudle.
Mrs. Caudle’s Curtain Lectures is a marvelous, overlooked comic Victorian gem. Amusing throughout, the lectures are utterly delightful and still carry the potent power of laughter. For clarification (if anyone should feel inclined to seek out this book), my edition is published by Hurd and Houghton in 1867, contains 195 pages, and includes illustrations by Charles Keene. The book is also one of the wonderful titles from Prion Humour Classics.