NIGELLA LAWSON has emerged
from her recent domestic troubles, bloodied but unbowed, confessing
that she survived Christmas by an over-indulgence only in
Her marriage to Charles
Saatchi was a tragedy. When he confessed in court that he still
adored her, and was broken-hearted to have lost her, it was
difficult not to feel sympathy for this strange, reclusive man.
And yet his love seems to have expressed itself in the form of
Like the strange art works he
so famously collected, Nigella's value to him seems to have been as
a possession. She was a bird in a gilded cage; fascinatingly
other, but ultimately, it seems, a prisoner of his
Perhaps there is a pathology
here that is, sadly, sometimes found in passionate
relationships, where one partner's understanding of love is so
impoverished that it can be expressed only in domination. The
person who is loved in this way is pampered and adored, but at the
same time choked of authentic life. The only escape ultimately is
to break free.
As far as I am aware,
religion played no part in the Saatchi/Lawson relationship, but the
archetype of controlling male and submissive
wife has, until very recently, been encouraged by most forms of
religion. Today it is still upheld by some Evangelical Christians,
and it manifests itself widely in Islam.
Yet we are not so far away
from it that we can be complacent: 60 years ago, when I was a
child, there was a widespread assumption that it was the divinely
given vocation of the man to be the head of the household, while
the wife was the heart. The task of the man was to exercise
"headship", while the woman obeyed as part of her obedience to
Christ. If he was cruel, or even violent, she must put up with
All this fitted in well with
the longing for "normality" after the Second World War, and much
church teaching supported this domestic pattern. Of course, not all
marriages in which such teaching was accepted became so peculiarly
stifling as the Saatchi/Lawson one seems to have been, and church
teaching was (and is) nuanced - the dominant male had to remember
that his headship required him to make sacrifices.
The really staggering thing,
however, is how a dangerously controlling pathology could be
so easily hidden inside that apparently God-given arrangement.
Today, we find it scandalous. I, for one, am glad that Nigella
has flown her cage. But millions of devout married women of the
recent past were not so lucky.
The Revd Angela Tilby is Diocesan Canon of Christ Church,
Oxford, and Continuing Ministerial Development Adviser for the
diocese of Oxford.