The Angry Wife is one of Pearl S. Buck’s lesser-known novels. During my work I often come across books that are donated to the library but which we cannot use. A donor had given us three Buck paperbacks, not in the best of condition, and after I read and enjoyed The Good Earth a couple months ago I decided to read these.
The character of the angry wife refers to Lucinda Delaney, a prim and proper Southern belle. She suspects her husband Pierce of having an affair with their slave Georgia. Although the reader knows that nothing ever happens between the two, Lucinda can’t help feeling suspicious of her husband’s betrayal. She is constantly aware and reminded of the scandal–more a scandal in her own mind–caused by Pierce’s own brother, Tom, having an affair with their other slave, Bettina. Tom is banished from the Delaney estate and although they are no longer on site, Lucinda is fearful that her children will start to ask questions about their biracial cousins.
Lucinda wears the metaphorical pants in this household, and even though Pierce was in command of a whole army during the Civil War, he can offer no resistance to his overbearing, indeed angry, and hatefully prejudiced wife. Tom and Bettina find peace and happiness in Philadelphia, living as equals in a colorblind post-Emancipation America. Lucinda, however, lives in constant fear of town gossip and the tainting of her pure white reputation by slave blood. When her own daughter elopes with a Brazilian, she throws fits of hysterics, wondering about the skin colour of her new son-in-law. In portraying Lucinda as so innately racist, Buck wisely avoids painting her in a comical light, as John Waters did with the character Prudence Pingleton in the original movie “Hairspray”. Lucinda quite frankly cannot cope with even the idea of anyone in her family associating with blacks on any basis other than that of mistress over slave.
In The Angry Wife, Buck herself wrote what today would seem to be antiquated and even misogynistic ideas of women. The descriptions however would seem fitting for their time, although I could not repress a chuckle when I read this passage about Lucinda and Pierce:
“He sat ruminating and idle on the terrace, putting off his riding about the farm, listening to her. Like most women she kept on talking after she had really finished everything she had to say. He let his mind wander. Then suddenly he was drawn back to attention by her changing the subject completely.”
Like The Good Earth, The Angry Wife was a rich and rapid read. Books like this are a pleasure to read but a disappointment to finish, as I wished the story would go on longer. I am happy that I have two more Buck novels to start off 2012.