Ambition in Marriage: True & False

By Anne Fielding

Originally presented as part of a public seminar at the Aesthetic Realism Foundation, NYC. 

Alec Guiness & Simone Signoret in Macbeth
Alec Guiness & Simone Signoret in Macbeth

Here are the words of a wife in a famous play talking to herself; a woman who thinks that in order to be happy, her husband must be great and powerful. And as she soliloquizes she tries to harden herself to achieve that purpose:

            …Come, you spirits
That tend on mortal thoughts, unsex me here,
And fill me from the crown to the toe top-full
Of direst cruelty! make thick my blood;
Stop up the access and passage to remorse,
That no compunctious visitings of nature
Shake my fell purpose…

Lady Macbeth of 11th century Scotland, presented by William Shakespeare, shows that contempt in wives has been around for a long time—interfering always with a wife’s happiness.  Eli Siegel defined contempt as the “disposition to think we will be for ourselves by making less of the outside world.” As Lady Macbeth asks the spirits to give her less feeling for people, she is desperately contemporary and represents an ambition of married women everywhere. In The Right of Aesthetic Realism to Be Known #160, titled “The Suppression of Good Will,” Mr. Siegel  explained:

Lady Macbeth, the early Scottish noblewoman, justifies ill will: she has seen good will as a hindrance to her purposes. Always, ill will has been looked upon as more favorable to ambition than meek good will, so given to considering what is due to others. As the gravedigger in Hamlet might say, ‘Your consideration of other people thwarts your lofty endeavors.’ Well, Lady Macbeth knows good will accordeth not with ambition.

Mr. Siegel is the greatest friend to every wife and husband, and I love him. In lessons and classes taught by him, my contempt and ill will were criticized, and I learned that the one ambition that makes a woman self-respecting and happy is the ambition to have good will—for one’s husband and the world, people close and far away. Because I learned this I had a very happy marriage with the late Sheldon Kranz—a marriage which is a means of education to wives and husbands everywhere.

Our greatest desire, Aesthetic Realism teaches, is to like the world we are in; and that is the purpose of marriage. If we use a husband for any other purpose, we’re untrue to our first and deepest ambition, and in the process, we weaken ourselves and the man we married, encourage him to be false to himself. Mr. Siegel wrote in “An Outline of Aesthetic Realism”:

Marriage is a means for liking the world through a person. Too often, though, marriage is a contemptuous exclusion of the world.

1. Does a Wife Want an Accomplice or Creative Encourager?

Sarah Siddons as Lady Macbeth by John Samuel Agar, 1792
Sarah Siddons as Lady Macbeth, 1792, by John Samuel Agar

There Are Wives has seen that this second, ugly ambition—to exclude the world contemptuously—works in many ways in wives. Since when a woman marries, she has likely already come to be against the world, it follows that she will want her husband to join her in fighting or getting rid of that world.

Many a wife has assumed that her husband’s purpose is to make her more important than anything, and she feels that together they’re more important than all other people.

All of this happens without any overt statement or declaration; we accrue contempt in marriage the way dust accumulates under a sofa; quietly. And it has results. Mr. Siegel explained,

Contempt is a quick way of settling matters in life. The desire to annul is the miserable flower of contempt.

This “miserable flower,” There Are Wives has seen, takes hundreds of forms, most of them very ordinary. In an Aesthetic Realism lesson that took place a few months after Sheldon and I were married, Mr. Siegel asked my husband something which should be asked of every man and woman preparing for the nuptial state:

Eli Siegel.  Do you want to use Anne Fielding as your accomplice or your creative encouragement?

Sheldon Kranz.  As my creative encouragement.

Eli Siegel.  Then you’ll be different from most husbands.

That word “accomplice”—how terrible and how fitting it is! For when a wife and husband don’t have as their conscious ambition to use each other to like the world, to see meaning in it, to value people truly, they are committing a deep crime—and causing themselves great unhappiness….Read more

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