Unless you happen to have married an absolute freakshow. And trust me. They're out there.
|Bluebeard, Hermann Vogel|
I'd like to say no, but then I run into Shahryar, whose wife's infidelity broke his brain so much that he went on a marry-and-murder spree, decimating the young female population of his own country to prevent himself from being deceived in love again. While it's clear that no one besides Shahryar is in favor of this policy, the fact remains that girls kept marrying him every day for three years.
|A Tale of 1001 Nights, Gustave Boulanger|
Of course, not all abuse is as physical as Shahryar's and Bluebeard's. The medieval archetype of the perfect wife was Griselda, whose classic rags-to-riches story is the final tale in The Decameron. Beautiful peasant girl catches the eye of nobleman, who does the right thing and marries her. And then, because he's an emotionally manipulative asshole, he decides to test his wife's virtue and see if she's worthy of the great honor of being raised so high.
|The Clerk's Tale, Janet Harvey Kelman|
Fast forward about 10 years. Lord Bastard McEviljerk isn't done yet.
He tells Griselda that their marriage is over and sends her back to her father's hut. She asks only for a shift in which to return. Then her sort-of ex-husband announces his engagement to a properly noble girl
|The Story of Patient Griselda, Master|
of the Story of Griselda
Of course, the "new bride" is in fact Griselda's long-lost daughter, accompanied by her brother. All is revealed, Griselda is reinstated, and my brain is broken almost as badly as Shahryar's, because for the love of God, why is this a happy ending?! The lord is despicable even within the context of the story; his people scold him for his rank mistreatment of his wife. Griselda's virtues are all of her time; she's not a character, she's a medieval idealization of submission, with no will of her own. There is no way to make this story palatable for modern audiences. Not when the nominal hero is an appalling abuser, and the heroine either too spineless or too intimidated ever to speak out in her own defense. The payoff - raising Griselda back to nobility - is as condescending as the setup, coming as it does from the husband who did everything he could to destroy the wife who never gainsaid him. Even mass-murdering Shahryar has the two key moments of realizing his crime and feeling true remorse. Griselda's husband never even admits that he did anything wrong. He's the Chris Brown of folklore.
|The Farmer's Clever Daughter, Gina Biggs|
|Helen and Menelaus at the Sack of Troy, c. 440-430 CE|
For the same reason as the clever farmer's daughter drugs the king. At that point in time, he is the only future she will ever have. No one will risk another war for Helen, not after the devastation of Troy. She's infamous, whether deservedly or not. Her only chance at regaining a life worth living is to make her life part of Menelaus's. It's a play for survival, and against all the odds it works. If she was his upgrade when they married, the tables have decidedly turned.
At what point does the man himself become identified with the status he represents? The distinction is murkier in the stories where the heroine is reunited with her abusive husband at the end; we're supposed to believe that the triumph here is one of love, not of successful social
|King Cophetua and the Beggar Maid, John Byam|
The scariest part is, in almost every case the woman knows what she's getting. With the exception of Bluebeard's bride, by the time of the reinstatement every discarded or endangered wife knows exactly what her husband's capable of. And they still go back. Something makes it worthwhile for them.
It could be that they've each fallen in love with weak men who abuse them to regain a sense of control. Or it could be the prospect of the life they offer, a more comfortable life than these women would have otherwise, a life of privilege and security that makes it worth tolerating devastating abuse.
Either way, it says something scary.