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Women as human hi-fi sets

Last night I found myself watching the BBC2 rerun of Pride and Prejudice, and was held. It was better than I remember it as having been the first time around, I suspect because this time I actually watched it instead of merely taping it and reading the reviews. It’s about a family with five daughters, and the agonies suffered while the daughters set about trying to find husbands.

In those pre-industrial days, the marital desirability of a woman seemed to involve singing and piano playing a lot. There’s a cruelly memorable moment when paterfamilias, a man fonder of being witty than of being kind, even to his own daughters, tells one of the less musically sparkling ones that she has “delighted us enough” with her music-making.

This emphasis on music as a man-getting asset used to puzzle me. Wasn’t looking good and cooking good sufficient? (Or at least supervising the people who did do the cooking.) But if you think of women as hi-fi sets for their husbands, before hi-fi sets actually existed, it all makes sense.

The idea that big white machines have replaced many of the domestic duties of women is a familiar one. That smaller blacker machines may also have had the same kind of effect only occurred to me more recently.

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