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What Man Would be Without a Woman

This penny ballad (no printer/publisher named and no date, but circa 1840) was found among the archive of the late Leslie Shepherd, expert on catchpenny ballads etc., and connoisseur of the paranormal and bizarre.

It is laughably non PC, as you would expect ('she’s man’s best friend, for him she’ll wash and mend'), but generally is very appreciative of the female sex, is pro-marriage, and strongly against bachelordom.

'So lads if you’re not silly, you will quickly go and wed;
A single life you’ll find to be a bitter pill…'

The use of the word 'molly' is interesting. I had always thought it referred to a gay or effeminate man, but in this context the line 'What man would be a molly all his life?' suggests that to be an unattached male who must ‘ mend his own clothes , must wash his shirt, and molly coddle too’ was to be per se effeminate, which is a notion that has persisted  right up to the present, though the general acceptance of 'house husbands' today suggests that it is slowly dying out.  The use of the term 'molly coddle' is also instructive. According to the O.E.D. it was coined in 1833, and meant (and still means ) to treat like an invalid. Did it therefore follow that in the early Victorian period being treated like an invalid was linked with being effeminate ?

Thoughts on this are welcome. [RH]

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