Ask Amy

gaslight4We asked Chicago Tribune advice columnist and NPR “Wait Wait … Don’t Tell Me!” panelist, Amy Dickinson, to put on her early 20th century advice column thinking cap and answer some letters from the characters in “Gaslight” the way you might have expected to hear them answered in 1923 when our production is set. (You can read Amy’s actual advice to real people in over 150 newspapers around the country, or on her website:

Dear Amy,

I’m hoping you can offer some advice, because I’m desperate and really don’t know where to turn . Both of my parents are gone, my mother having died when I was child, in an insane asylum, and the rest of my family cut off all ties with me three years ago, after my marriage. I don’t feel comfortable talking to my husband about this, because when I’ve tried to broach the subject, he gets violently angry and says I imagine things. I know he loves me dearly and only wants the best for me, but I’ve become so impossible to live with, he’s at the end of his rope. I know I must be a terrible burden.

About six months ago, we moved to Philadelphia, and since then, things have gotten worse. I hear the strangest noises when I’m at home alone, as if someone is walking around upstairs, and my memory is suddenly playing tricks on me. I can’t seem to remember the most ordinary details or where I put things. Recently, Jack gave me a grocery bill to keep safe until he could pay the grocer, but when he asked for it back, it wasn’t where I knew I’d put it. This is on top of other mysterious disappearances around the house, such as pictures, rings, a brooch, keys. Everything points to me as the source of these problems. I’m so terrified that this is a sign of the illness that led to my mother’s insanity, and Jack himself has begun to say that living with me is a liability and that I need professional help.

I’m so afraid that if I see a doctor, he’ll insist I be admitted to the mad house and I’ll never see my family or the outside world again. My mother was my age when her illness overtook her. Am I over-reacting? I already take medicine for my mental lapses, but it really doesn’t seem to help. The worse I become, the harsher Jack is towards me. I want to save my marriage and have Jack love me the way he did when we were first married.

What should I do? Should I see a doctor and risk his diagnosis? Should I try to talk to Jack again and hope that he won’t storm and rage? I’ve even thought of confiding in the servants… but I don’t know if I can trust them.

Please help,

Truly Desperate

Dear Desperate: This is a test of your abilities as a woman and a wife. You must understand that your husband knows what is best for you. Servants are famously unreliable as confidants; their lowly station indicates inferior intelligence and character, and they are not to be trusted. No — in this situation, as in all things, you must turn to your husband for guidance. You have placed your faith and trust in him, as all wives must.

Dear Amy,

I’m afraid my beloved wife is losing her mind. She’s always been a scatterbrain, and I’m used to her losing and forgetting things. Recently though, her behavior has become cause for deeper concern. I know that all women are to some degree crazy, and it’s to be expected that they will overreact at even the smallest provocation. But my wife’s hysteria has begun to disrupt our lives beyond endurance. Just the other day, I asked her politely to bring me a handkerchief that I’d given her to mend and when she couldn’t locate it, she became extremely emotional– screaming and crying until she collapsed in a faint. It fell to me to comfort her, and of course, my handkerchief was forgotten.

No matter how reasonably and calmly I speak with her about this problem, in the end she always begins crying and refuses to have a rational conversation about it. She twists my words to make it seem as though I’m attacking her. I have tried everything to solve this problem. Kindness, patience and unimaginable self control have come to nothing. Of course, I love my wife, but I’m not sure how much more I can endure. Should I call a professional, or just call it quits?

Doting Husband

Dear Doting: When it comes to the weaker sex, a gentleman must expect an extra amount of sensitivity, given that they are subject to hysterics, vapors, and bad humors of all sorts.

As a married gentleman of a certain station, you should certainly expend all of your efforts to be patient with your beloved, but if her anger is uncontrollable and her illness incurable, it indicates that she lacks the feminine qualities necessary to make a suitable wife, making disposal not only necessary, but the correct course of action.