*** DEBUG START ***
*** DEBUG END ***

Pathology of the gilded cage

10 January 2014

NIGELLA LAWSON has emerged from her recent domestic troubles, bloodied but unbowed, confessing that she survived Christmas by an over-indulgence only in chocolate.

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 complete control.

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 will.

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 it.

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.

Letters to the editor

Letters for publication should be sent to letters@churchtimes.co.uk.

Letters should be exclusive to the Church Times, and include a full postal address. Your name and address will appear alongside your letter.

Forthcoming Events

6-7 September 2022
Preaching as Pilgrimage conference
From the College of Preachers.

27-28 September 2022
humbler church Bigger God conference
The HeartEdge Conference in Manchester includes the Theology Slam Live Final.

More events

The Church Times Archive

Read reports from issues stretching back to 1863, search for your parish or see if any of the clergy you know get a mention.

FREE for Church Times subscribers.

Explore the archive

Welcome to the Church Times

​To explore the Church Times website fully, please sign in or subscribe.

Non-subscribers can read four* articles for free each month. (You will need to register.)

*Until the end of June: we’re doubling the number of free articles to eight, to celebrate the publication of our Platinum Jubilee double issue.