The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #123801   Message #2735074
Posted By: MGM·Lion
30-Sep-09 - 12:22 PM
Thread Name: Origins: The Devil and the Feathery Wife
Subject: RE: Origins: The Devil and the Feathery Wife
It might be of interest that this song [in, obviously, the Carthy/Lloyd version] was very popular among students of English in China when I did a British Council tour on English Folksong of Chinese universities 20 years ago. The only one they seemed to like better was The Tailor In The Teachest, with all its refs to the 19C China-tea trade.

One very intelligent young Chinese student, in a seminar rather than a full-audience lecture, gave a very fine analysis of the song's marital relationship: the wife, he pointed out, was a scold because the husband was inept, which was why he was 'between dark noon and despair' with 'no money to buy his food or pay the landlord's rent'. But she was nevertheless a very loving woman, willing to undergo extreme discomfort and unpleasantness to save her husband from the consequences of his own ineffectuality.

I don't think this interpretation could be bettered.