Since CTBHHM is divided into so many chapters and parts I can't guarantee that I'll divide my reviews up quite as logically - particularly since this promises to become more a page by page commentary than a connected set of chapter summaries and reviews.
Part 1, chapter 1 starts off rather well. She opens by reminding the reader just how much work a good marriage takes. This isn't something that just happens, and even Mr. Darcy probably has a habit of humming under his breath while paying bills that makes dearest Lizzie contemplate the decorative swords above the mantel. Yet, despite our husband's shortcomings we are called to be cheerful, willing helpers. It's not that we wouldn't perhaps do a better job ourselves, Mrs. Pearl rightly points out that such contemplations are entirely beside the point, but that it's not our job. Women are to help meets eagerly searching for new ways to bless their husbands. Amen and pass the conviction. Much as I love Allen and I can't say that I'm nearly as eager for his welfare as I should be. If Debi kept to this line of thought I'd be writing an entirely different sort of review, but even here we find troubling hints of the arguments to come. For instance, in talking about the roles of wives Debi entirely skips over any idea that women may have a separate existence. I realize this is a book written to wives and not single women, but occasionally I wonder how she feels about lovely single ladies (we all know them) who, by the grace of God, remain single (pg 23)? Consider this excerpt -"You are, by nature, equipped in every way to be your man's helper. You are inferior to none as long as you function within your created nature...You were created to make him complete, not to seek personal fulfillment parallel to him (21)." Since I'm not even sure what she means by parallel personal fulfillment I'll leave that alone, but I'm sure you can see where I'm going with this. It raises a few questions. Are single women inferior? Is it possible for women (single or widowed) to have purpose aside from men? We can charitably assume that Mrs. Pearl doesn't mean these things, but her prose makes it unclear. One could possible surmise that in her fervent defense of submissive, helper-wives Mrs. Pearl has lost sight of women's larger importance in the church. And here, "in the church," might be the crux of my issues with Mrs. Pearl - something that will become more clear when we discuss the next chapter.
Chapter two starts off with the delightful premise that more women (particularly wives) should take care to wear some of that "joy of the Lord" on the outside where it can beautify their features and enchant their husbands. This isn't something I read so often in the marriage advice genre, and it's something my husband agrees should be said more often. Cheerful, playful wives are way more attractive than doleful, long-faced ones, and the wise wife will keep this in mind while applying her lip gloss. Unfortunately the rest of this chapter slides downhill rapidly from here. After laying out her laudable "cheerful wife" principle, Mrs. Pearl goes on to apply it to a situation concerning a wife whose husband is having an emotional affair. This section has been reviewed elsewhere on the internet, so I'll try to stick with what particularly struck Allen and me. First off this big blooper: "God has provided for your husband's complete sanctification and deliverance from temptation through you, his wife (29)." Allen's remark on this statement was that it's enough to condemn the book out of hand. While God might use temporal agents (a neighbor or a parent) to share His grace, sanctification and deliverance come solely through Jesus Christ and His righteousness. A wife might be an agent of grace, but these agents of grace cannot be considered meritorious in any effective way. The credit is completely God's. Unfortunately it doesn't stop there. Debi Pearl goes on the paint a dreary picture of the indignant, condemning wife standing on her rights and vows and eventually driving her lonely husband back into his secretary's arms while she (the wife) is forced into poverty with her poor government schooled kids, having no prospects of love before except a soul crushing repetition of the same round with a man of another name. First, one can't read through this section without realizing that Debi is either projecting a whole lot or holding much of the previously quoted letter back. (For instance, nowhere does the wife's letter indicate that she's been scolding or that her husband has been lonely/excluded from sex.) Secondly, one can also clearly see just why this book is so poisonous. Mrs. Pearl says "You cannot be pitiful enough to force him to love you (30)." This is very true. If this woman wants to win her husband's love she's not going to do with mopes and accusations. However, Mrs. Pearl completely glosses over any sort of repentance of reconciliation. She goes so far as to say that waiting for repentance may lose this woman her husband completely - with all its dire implications of loneliness and poverty.
This is where we find most the poison. If Mrs. Pearl was saying "Once your husband has repented and shown a desire to be reconciled you have to give him something to he can desire. You're probably feeling very bruised right now, but even if you don't trust him (and I'm not saying you should right away) you need to be a person he can fall madly in love with again. This is going to be a whole lot harder if you wear your heart on your sleeve and look at him reproachfully over your morning eggs." Nope, Mrs. Pearl jumps right over repentance and tells the wife to dive into direct competition with the office hussy to win her husband back. There are so many problems with this. First off, Mrs. Pearl never suggests the wife get a pastor/higher authority involved. Second, the husband receives absolutely no accountability or an attempt to bring him back into right relationship with God. Third, the wife is demeaning herself (and her wedding vows) by acting as if a legitimate competition over his affections existed. Fourth, Mrs. Pearl is assuming that this husband won't take his wife's acquiescence as license to do whatever he wants since his wife is too desperate or dumb to care/notice. Fifth, the implication is husbands get smiles, sex, and blushes because they may go off the rails if they don't, but women get these things because they've worked hard to earn every single one. If this isn't the oddest conception of marriage I don't know what is. I'm pretty darn sure that I didn't earn all my husband's affection, and yet I'm also pretty sure that Allen has earned quite a bit of mine through his patient, tender care.
Hopefully you can see the problems. Taken alone many of Debi Pearl's statements have merit. Men aren't won by critical wives. They do love cheerful appreciation. Standing for your marriage vows might end with your husband packing his bags. The problem is when you put all together and end up with wives acting like their husband's are always in the sexual marketplace - not because a wise wife will see her husband's sexual needs met, but because he literally might be searching the sexual marketplace at any time. At that point what difference is there between Christian wives and Park Avenue trophy wives? Less alimony I suppose. I believe the whole point of this is found in this statement: "Recognize that you are at war for the preservation of God's most noble institution on earth -the family (30)." Unfortunately this simply isn't true. God's family (The Church) trumps all earthly families. It is to the Church that we owe our most basic loyalties. Don't believe me? Consider how Christ said that He came to bring not peace but a sword and went on to list how basic family structures would be torn apart as some answered and some resisted the call of Christ. Divorce is a bad thing, but breaking up a family isn't the worst thing. Even excommunication (roughly equivalent to divorce from the church) is supposed to be part of a larger call back to repentance and fellowship. Unfortunately Mrs. Pearl doesn't see this, and without the church there really is very little she can recommend a wife do besides order a new garter belt and try again.