Maybe it is because I am called Mary, too, and have almost begun to believe the life-long digs about contrariness, that I have to admit to a sneaking no, wholehearted and unashamed admiration for Lady Archer of Weston-super-Mare. Why is it these days that the most common reaction to spousal loyalty among wronged wives is to ask why on earth they don't pack their bags and move on?
Dump the guy, they say; get yourself a life, why throw yourself away on a good-for-nothing? The urging becomes almost rabid, especially from fellow women, when the wronged wives are as patently intelligent and employable as Mary Archer and the last prominent wife to be so vilified Hillary Clinton.
Well, it just so happens that the Jeffrey in question made himself into a millionaire by dint of pulling himself up by his bootstraps and writing best-selling novels. It also so happens that the Bill in question rose from a poor family in the back of a backwoods state to become a two-term president of the United States. These men are hardly losers in any common understanding of the word.
They are, in fact, not dissimilar types. From all we know about him, Jeffrey Archer belongs to a very traditional and well-known category of male. He is a bounder and a cad. He is also a braggart, whose boastful fantasies about himself repeatedly crossed the line into lying and thence as he recently learned to his cost into perjury. Perjury, it will be recalled, was also the charge that faced Bill Clinton. He was heavily fined for it. You can posit, to risk a pop-psychological digression, that the pair of them found the combination of charm and truth-stretching a supremely effective stratagem for manipulating their doting mothers and extended it, with similar success, to the girls. But that is by the by.
The fact, perhaps regrettable, is that the male of the species has an inborn tendency to boast, and that ladies down the ages have been falling for it. All the sex surveys put a sense of humour (and by implication the capacity to amuse) at the top of the qualities that women look for in men above looks and pretty much anything else one would prefer not to mention in print. The attraction to a serious and capable woman of a cad and a bounder, especially one who flatters and charms, is near-fatal.
But as both Lady Archer and Senator Clinton have shown, the combination of such opposites can be highly successful. In their own way, the two spouses get on. Each is flattered to be the object of the other's attention. Each is introduced to a world quite different from the one they have known. Both Lady Archer and Senator Clinton (unlike about 40 per cent of their peers in this country and half in the US) have brought up children without divorcing or separating from their husbands and without severe dysfunctionality at least so far as can be divined so far on the part of the offspring. Both women have doubtless experienced what Bill Clinton so discreetly called "pain" in their marriage that is part and parcel of being attached to bounders and cads. But they would not be unreasonable in calculating that they have more to lose from ditching than from standing by their man.
Some of that benefit may indeed have to do with ambition and security. For Mrs Clinton there was the political advantage that accrued from her mate; for Lady Archer there is a clear financial benefit. An academic, even a Cambridge professor of physics, does not necessarily earn enough to send her children to private schools and keep two residences.
But mercenary considerations may not explain everything much though their detractors would like it to. Both women have had, thanks to their marriage, a variety of the social experience, and vastly more fun, than they would have otherwise. They can indulge their "bad" side through their husbands, without betraying their upbringing or education. And the men, by virtue of their perpetual courtship, have won and kept women of a superior class.
They betray them, of course, time and again they cannot help themselves but never, it should be noted, for women of the same class. Perverse though it seems, they place their wives on a pedestal of devotion, and who are we to say that this devotion is not genuine? It is almost endearing that the lies which brought both men their greatest trouble with the law had not to do with money or politics, but with their womanising. They desperately wanted to avoid hurting their wives.
Which is one reason, surely, why their wives still go in to bat for them with such forbearance. What propels them to speak out is not the womanising after so many years, they take that in their stride but the public disgrace that threatens their knights errant. When Lady Archer went on the Today show this week, cool and collected as ever, it was not her husband's faithfulness or veracity that she sought to defend, but the integrity of his charitable fund-raising. And in this one matter, she may have right on her side.
But what does it say about us that her loyal indignation was dismissed with such scorn? Would she have been more sympathetically regarded if she had burst into tears at the microphone, lamented Jeffrey's fickleness and announced that she was suing for divorce? I fear that she would.Reuse content