Mrs Caudle’s Curtain Lectures

Job Caudle, the poor sod, was the ultimate hen-pecked husband; the man who launched a thousand sitcom characters and not a few saucy picture postcards. Born in 1845 to proud parents writer Douglas Jerrold and Mr Punch, he lived for 365 rantings by his terrifying wife, Mrs Caudle, in the world’s longest-running satirical magazine.

Every edition of Punch, for many years, had a touching bedroom scene between the happy couple, where she ticked him off for what he had (or hadn’t) done that day. It didn’t matter whether he had lent his umbrella to a friend, spent an evening playing billiards or joined a club, Job Caudle was on the receiving end of an earful from his wife which had Victorian gents rolling in the aisles.

I found a modern edition of some of Mrs Caudle’s Curtain Lectures in a charity shop and although it’s not really that funny any more, what can be seen is the seed of a stereotype that endured right up until the birth of feminism and to some extent still exists today. It’s also a great social document of what really happened in Victorian London – not the big things – the grand events and the antics of the rich and influential, but the ordinary working and lower-middle class people – the mass.

And why am I including it here? Because one of Mr Caudle’s worst transgressions was a visit to the notorious Greenwich Fair. “…and you call yourself a respectable man, and the father of a family!”

Mrs Caudle, fully aware that “all sorts of people” go to Greenwich on Easter and May Bank Holiday, can’t decide whether she’s more cross that Mr Caudle has gone to this appalling place “at your time of life” or that Mr Caudle didn’t take her with him. She knows all about the gross indecencies committed there “…and of course you went up and down the hill, running and racing with nobody knows who,” and “I suppose you had your fortune told by the gypsies…and you didn’t go riding upon the donkeys?” One by one, Mrs Caudle lists the unique iniquities that went on at Greenwich – which I’ll go into on another day – and expounds her opinion “Pah! It’s disgusting!”

And that’s when you suddenly realise that Mrs Caudle isn’t just a bog-standard comedy ‘overbearing spouse’ – she represents what Victorian Britain was becoming – prudish, domineering and disapproving of anything that smacked of fun. It’s also interesting to note that there is also more than a hint of envy in her voice – a subconscious desire to break the chains of 19th Century womanhood, unlace those corsets and tumble down the hill at Greenwich Park with everyone else…

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