The year’s Prize for Political Incorrectness (Reprint Division) goes to this bundle of three dozen monologues, first serialized in Punch in 1845, which the sublimely middle-class Mrs. Margaret Caudle directs toward her aptly named husband Job every night as he lies in bed praying to escape in slumber.
Embroidering a different text each evening, Mrs. Caudle, noting that she has had no opportunity to speak to her husband all day, belabors Mr. Caudle about his friends, his spending habits, his staying out late, his practice of Freemasonry, his resistance to a seaside holiday, and his alleged flirting with his unsuitable friend Mr. Prettyman’s minx of a sister. On occasion, by way of variety, she forgoes her scolding for cajoling “Caudle, love” (a truly ominous phrase) on behalf of celebrating their anniversary properly, inviting her mother to live with them, or retreating to France or a country cottage—though she’s equally capable of yearning for home and London when Mr. Caudle relents. As Peter Ackroyd observes in his brief Introduction, Victorian humorist Jerrold’s shrewish heroine displays not only a remarkable tenacity in bringing her prey to book, but a prodigious inventiveness in bulldozing the twists and turns of his every defense. Her 150-year-old voice is as fresh as ragweed, and so is her husband’s, heard only refracted through her own plaints (“A nice place too, to be called the Turtle-Dovery! Didn’t I christen it myself? I know that—but then I knew nothing of the black-beetles”) or in brief final comments on each night’s agon (“I was resolved to know nothing, and so I went to sleep in my ignorance”).
Taken one a night, these raucous harangues would make perfect bedtime reading for their obvious target audience—even though, consumed in volume, their satiric hectoring becomes hard to distinguish from Mrs. Caudle’s own. (Illus. throughout with period line drawings)