So, a couple years ago I came across a thread expressing outrage about a headline for an article that was about a collaborative art exhibition. The headline in question, rather than including the names of the artists, identified the two women by their respective husband and father, who just happened to both be somewhat famous rock stars. It was something like “So-and-so’s wife teams up with So-and-so’s daughter in this exhibition” for its tagline. Which, theoretically, is understandable because here’s the thing: in a headline you’re going for instant recognisability so people read your article. You want to identify the name in the headline that is going to be known by the most people. I understand the selling motivation on the writer’s part.
But the comments section was not having it—it was “these women have names” this, and “these women have identities beyond their closest male relatives” that. Which is true, but I felt like it was kind of misidentifying what, in this case, was actually just a prioritizing of recognisability, not some kind of insidious corporate gender bias.
Yet you cannot look through a bookstore, library, or fiction section of the local department store without seeing titles like this: “The So-and-so’s Wife” or “The Such-and-such’s Daughter.” And there’s no similarly justifiable reason for it. It’s not like we know who the “clockmaker” or “winemaker” in question is anymore than we know who the wife is before we’ve read the book. There’s no real reason for phrasing it like this; it’s just a catchy title trend. So I decided to compile a list of all the same such titles I have encountered recently, or not so recently, without really even trying. Opening our series: the wives.
The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger (2003)
Perhaps the most famous of the “So-and-so’s wife” books, this one has its own movie. I haven’t read the book, but from the synopsis, it actually sounds like one I might read. I enjoy different explorations of the possible manifestations of time travel and this one is giving me almost Memento vibes, or maybe Benjamin Button? I don’t know, I just feel like it might be good.
The Winemaker’s Wife by Kristin Harmel (2019)
The discount section at your local bookstore is great place to find a plethora of historical dramas, and this wartime-era gem is among that number. I honestly couldn’t even articulate how disinterested this type of book makes me feel on a visceral level whenever I see their muted tonal colouring, floral detailing, and dramatic from-behind shots of people in mediocre historical re-enactment costuming. But, I took note of this one because I was planning for this post.
The Clockmaker’s Wife by Daisy Wood (2021)
Another of the ubiquitous wartime-era-historical novel-romance-drama instalments in this list, this one is not to be confused with the similarly titled The Clockmaker’s Daughter (which will be on a forthcoming list). Is it the same clockmaker? What is so special about this clockmaker? Will we ever get a book just about him? Why can’t he tell his own story? No one knows.
The Railwayman’s Wife by Ashley Hay (2013)
Oh, this one is about the aftermath of WW2. So different and original I can barely contain my excitement at the novelty. To be honest, this one strikes me as a bit The Guernsey Literary and Potato-Peel Pie Society, which was okay (I saw the movie, didn’t read the book, sue me), and could be interesting, but again, seems kind of samey.
The Vicar’s Wife by Katherine Swartz (2013)
Finally one set in a different time-period, this looks like it might be a bit more original and intriguing, at least as far as family-drama novels go. However, not to be left out of the trend, it goes and follows a parallel story from the 1930s of the vicar’s wife who used to live in the house the main characters have bought in the present. Oh, the 1930s, really? You know that time that preceded World War 2? And there we are again.
The Baker’s Wife by Erin Healy (2011)
This one is modern, has a different story that unravels over the course of a series of seemingly insignificant, unconnected events in a small town with a fairly strong religious element. And it’s the only book on this list that I’ve read. And I liked it. I picked it up at one of those travelling Christian book sales that rolled through my city for a couple years after our single, solitary Christian bookstore shut down. It dealt with tough topics like the stigma of past crime, abortion, hardline fundamentalism, and had a bit of a wu-wu psychic mojo element to it. At the time I read it, I thought it did a pretty good job with the characters and representation, but I have no idea if it would stand the test of time and a bit of maturity on my part.
The Dutch Wife by Ellen Keith (2018)
Okay, I’m kind of cheating here with the change of exact titular formula, but my definition of a formula title was a bit loose in the last title post I did too, so I’m claiming legal precedent. One thing this book does adhere to is the theme of 99% of the prior books on this list—set in 1943, during some international conflict which we all know what was. But there’s more! Where a previous book wove in a secondary story from its relative past, this one weaves in a story from its relative future—1977. As if writing two or three different stories into the same book makes it better. I’m sorry, but I have expressed my feelings on this tendency in fiction, and I dislike it intensely.
The Paris Wife by Paula McLain (2011)
And, keeping with the previous title profile, we have a wife of a city. It’s like the Canterbury Tales character the Wife of Bath. However, this one, while following the historical drama pattern, is set in the 1920s and is actually about Hadley Richardson, who married Ernest Hemingway. This story follows the couple’s roaring times in Paris with all of the modern artists of the time and how it all unravels. I have to say this is one I might actually want to pick up—I love me some Midnight in Paris vibes.
The Silent Wife by A.S.A. Harrison (2013)
Fun fact: there are about three other novels by different authors with this exact same title, but this is the one I’m talking about because it’s the one I encountered in my local library. It’s a psychological thriller about a modern couple, and from the description of events, I’m getting a bit of a Gone Girl type story. Not my thing, maybe, but at least it’s different than most of this list.
The Starter Wife by Nina Laurin (2019)
Another thriller type, this one deals with the current wife of a man whose wife drowned years before—but the current wife is starting to get messages from the supposedly deceased wife, and soon enough it’s unclear whether the drowning was an unfortunate accident or a murder. To be honest, this one seems a little more intriguing, perhaps just because it reminds me of part of a movie I saw on TV once as a young and impressionable child of a woman who is being haunted by another woman who looks just like her but has different coloured eyes. The main character keeps seeing the other woman’s reflection in the mirror and the bathwater and the lake and there’s a scene on the end of a dock in the sunset and there was something creepy about the husband… yeah, it kind of grabbed me and to this day I don’t know what the movie was.
And that wraps up our list of ten books with wife in the title. If you’ve read any of these books, or have titles to add to this by-no-means exhaustive list, please comment below! Also be sure to check out my other Titles on Trend post here if you missed it.
4 thoughts on “Titles on Trend: Wives & Daughters, Pt. 1”
I loved your previous post on titles on trend, and I love this one too. Do you suppose it’s like baby names? Do people think they’re choosing really original titles only to discover later that everyone else has picked the same one? Or are the titles imposed by publishers precisely because they are on trend? I really recommend The Time Traveller’s Wife, though – it’s one of the most convincing and intriguing treatments of time travel that I’ve read.
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I honestly don’t know. It might be a similar thing with baby names where people kind of become subconsciously aware of certain names seemingly at the same time. Groupthink? Judging by the spread of titles, it could be partly an aesthetic thing too where it depends upon genre, like with wife thing being so often historical drama. And it could easily be a marketing choice as well—certain title patterns and trends tend to appeal to a certain market. Not to write a thesis on it or anything.
And thanks for the recommendation! I might be picking that book up soon.
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[…] & Daughters.” If you didn’t catch the first part, the “wives,” check it out here. I easily compiled a list of books following the same pattern of “The [insert occupation of […]
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(Late to the party) There’s a book I enjoy called “The Glassmaker’s Daughter,” but the title actually comes from a song composed by someone else about Risa. The song ends up nearly getting her killed, but also becomes thematically important. So while it is a “So-and-so’s Daughter” title, it has more meaning once you encounter it in the book.
But yeah, the pattern is kinda unnerving. Like it’s pointing at the “woman in her husband’s shadow” idea, the whole “unsung her-o.” In the past decades, this wouldn’t be an issue– at worst, it would be second- or third-wave feminism shouting “Here’s a woman that his-tory ignored!” but usually, it’s a history piece about the emotional pillar that held up a man in trying times, or who had to be the hero her husband needed (and yes, she has her own name). Nowadays, with the current context of fourth-wave feminism, it has a more bitter connotation.
Ah well. The story chooses its own title after a while.
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