There was one young woman a couple of weeks ago – the team captain of one of the Oxford colleges, I think – who particularly intrigued me. There was something anachronistic about her, and yet at the same time familiar. Eventually I got it: she didn’t look like a student at all, she looked like a wife.
So what does a wife look like? Quite. That was what puzzled me, and eventually I worked it out. She didn’t look like a modern wife, she looked like an old fashioned wife. She looked like a character you might see in an Agatha Christie adaptation. And that set me thinking further.
It seems to me that becoming a wife used to mean something rather different to a woman than it does in these more emancipated times. I have the impression that most modern young married women don’t really see themselves as wives in the traditional sense; they see themselves as partners-with-a-piece-of-paper-to-prove-it. It isn’t quite the same thing. Fathers used to take seriously the business of giving their daughters away, thereby relinquishing control and the duty of protection to another man. And it seems the women took it just as seriously. They stopped being independent women and became wives. Critically, the change of status was so profound that they effectively entered a different universe and became different people in consequence, and so their persona changed from that of the maiden to that of the wife. I know there were exceptions, but in general I think that’s true.
And that was why this particular woman stood out. She appeared to radiate the persona of an old fashioned wife. I imagined that one day she might find her husband murdered in the library, and be quite discomfited until Miss Marple has worked out who done it.