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August 10, 2021

“The Curtain Lecture – Mrs. Henpeck Opens It.”

“Curtain Lecture” is a very old term for the tendency of a nagging wife to wait until her husband comes to bed before launching a verbal attack on him. The curtain, of course, was the heavy drapery that surrounded the marriage bed in olden times, and continued in use through the era of Charles Dickens. “Besides what endless brawls by wives are bred, / The curtain lecture makes a mournful bed,” wrote the English poet John Dryden (1631-1700).

In the early 1800s, the British wit Douglas Jerrold wrote a fictional series for the English humor magazine, Punch, called “Mrs. Caudle’s Curtain Lectures.” In 1846, the pieces were gathered in book form under that title. Several of Mrs. Caudle’s scoldings were prompted by her husband’s attempts to sneak into bed undetected, after returning late from a night of carousing.

That seems to be the situation in this old stereo photo above, “The Curtain Lecture –– Mrs. Henpeck opens it.” Note that Mr. Henpeck’s shoes, top hat and suit jacket have been removed and rest on the floor at the foot of the bed, and he has attempted to keep a low profile by crouching there, on his knees. Unfortunately, Mrs. H. has awakened before he is able to remove the rest of his garments and slither in beside her. (In reality, this would have happened in the dark, but then there would have been no photo.)

Incidentally, Mrs. Henpeck’s knees appear to be warmed by a Jacquard coverlet. These bedspreads were an elegant feature of 19th century middle-class life, many of them woven in small factories in Palmyra and other communities of Upstate New York. (Also in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana and Illinois.) These are avidly sought on the antiques market, and prized by collectors of Americana.

Certainly it is possible for the Mr. Henpeck portrayed here to be the father of that baby. It is perhaps less likely for this Mrs. Henpeck to be the mother, but not impossible.


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