Women are divisive. Among themselves and between their generations. Go to any academic women’s conference and see for yourself. Or listen to Blair Brown’s crisp, young, feminine voice reading The Senator’s Wife.
And listen for this divisiveness. In the pasteurized neighborly conversations of Miller’s two women: the 37 year old newly married Meri, unemployed, hypercritical and amoral, and the handsome, charming, well mannered Senator’s wife, Delia, archaism of a femininity shaped by different rules.
The light chatter of the women is seductive and irresistable and light, and unfolds their character, their virtu, as well as their style. Delia is a full-figured soul, a solid, generous, private collection of duties girdled by public beliefs and public habits. Delia is the effect of a life shared with her country, her party, her church, and a husband shared with other women. Tom Naughton, the Senator, has indeed had many women, some of whom Delia ignored and some of whom she didn’t. Her private life with Tom is ruleless. She lives more or less alone in their home in Massachusetts most of the year, and travels to Paris in the Spring. She is a privately sexual woman.
Meri, by contrast, is a patchwork of debts, impulses, and discomforts. She writes freelance pieces for a variety of journals and papers, faithful to none, committed to nothing. She finds a job at a radio station, she becomes pregnant. She loves her body, loves the pleasure it gives her, and is unhappy in pregnancy. To effect change, she goes shopping. She can assume the fantasy of a pregnant woman in the same way as she can assume the fantasy of a wife or a neighbor. Indeed she is enchanted by her neighbor, the senator’s wife. Enchanted in her very misconfiguration and misrecognition of Delia: who is (the copula) the senator’s wife but is not (the existential is not, the essential is not) the senator’s wife.
Delia is political in her own right, in her own shoes, at her own party:
My favorite of the entire group was Martha Mitchell. Old Martha critiqued the whole thing from home by the telephone… She’d call someone and announce one luny event after another with her big wide mouth. Remember Tom? When she said she’d been kidnapped by the FBI and it was true. They were all true, all these things that people assumed were dipsomaniacal….
The senator’s wife, like Martha Mitchell, is a political woman, a political animal. And then, too, a wife.