When advertising executive Charles Saatchi announced that he was divorcing domestic goddess Nigella Lawson, the booing by media pundits was mixed with another sound: the gentle hissing of dreams deflating as myriad Jewish princesses were forced to concede that maybe a rich Jewish husband isn’t always the answer.
Charles and Nigella, you see, were peddling a fairy tale. She is a media darling with her own career and identity, a woman whose independence can be seen in the way she revels in her culturally taboo voluptuousness, her every cookbook and TV series an anti-diet manifesto.
Yet those achievements didn’t stop her from marrying a legendarily wealthy man. In fact, they made it okay – okay for others to want it, too, in an age of rampant political correctness when feminism’s most enduring legacy often seems to be the right to do everything. On our own.
Meanwhile, Saatchi’s résumé – chiefly, his transformation from a ruthless adman closely allied to the U.K.’s Tory party to a freewheeling visual arts tastemaker – gave his money class. His extra years – he is 70 to her 53 – enhanced his image as a protective if sometimes cantankerous force in her life.
He was, in short, exactly the kind of husband we all would have wished for Nigella when they wed in 2003, because though she was already the domestic goddess, she was also a widow and the lone parent of two young children. What more could a girl ask for? He even picked up the bill, along with his brother, for giving London a new “cool” (his word not ours) shul.
For a while, it all seemed to be going fine for the first couple of secular Anglo-Jewry. Sure, he’s no fan of her food, claiming to prefer a supper of toast with cheese spread followed by cereal for desert. But at his age, he’s probably wise to pass on brownies whose secret ingredient is bacon (Nigella has never been one to skimp on treyf goodies).
Cracks in their marriage were made devastatingly public last month with the publication of those photographs – photographs in which he appears to be throttling her over lunch outside a chic London eatery before she exits in tears. On the day the images hit the newsstand, her PR adviser apparently ordered Saatchi to apologize and admit his shame. He refused, insisting he had applied no pressure to her neck – it was merely a way of holding her attention while they quarreled over her daughter’s college plans, he said.
The next day, he turned himself in to the police to be cautioned, though he has since sounded decidedly unapologetic. Then, when he finally announced he was seeking a divorce, he told a British tabloid before telling Nigella herself.
A rich husband, it turns out, doesn’t mean a decent one. But who doesn’t know that already? It’s the takeaway in soap operas and Yiddish folk stories. Domestic violence, however, is never acceptable.
Saatchi has said that Nigella tried to strangle him, too – other people’s marriages are the ultimate mystery, but it’s worth considering that should she wish to harm her husband, the creator of a chocolate hazelnut cheesecake containing more than 7,000 calories has stealthier weapons in her arsenal.
Once upon a time, the dream of a rich husband was something aspirational. That it’s endured even when sisters can do it for themselves shouldn’t come as a surprise – after all, so many of our romantic tropes remain unreconstructed, and for reasons too complex to go into here, Jewish princesses aren't alone in hoping their spouse will earn more than them. The real lesson seems to be that if you must marry a man of means, make sure you have enough of your own to hire a damn fine lawyer.
And speaking of which, perhaps your mother has known best all along: better a lawyer or a nice doctor than a man whose idea of great art is a pickled shark.
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