What does Elizabeth mean when she said she kept a cold house in The Crucible?
In this climactic scene from Act IV of Arthur Miller's The Crucible, Elizabeth Proctor is pouring her heart out to her husband, John, who stands accused of practicing witchcraft, and whose affair with Abigail helped precipitate the chain of events leading to the witch trials. Elizabeth is forced by circumstances to come to terms with the distant, formal nature of her relationship with her husband. These are Puritans and deeply religious, and their strictures of their culture have left their marriage sterile and lacking in passion. It is in this context that Elizabeth exclaims to John, "I have read my heart this three month, John. Pause. I have sins of my own to count. It needs a cold wife to prompt lechery."
With that statement, Elizabeth Proctor has turned her accusations inward and justified -- in a way -- her husband's decision to stray from the bonds of their marriage. Reiterating the substance of her confession regarding her emotional aloofness and sexual restrictions, she further announces:
John, I counted myself so plain, so poorly made, no honest love could come to me! Suspicion kissed you when I did; I never knew how I should say my love. It were a cold house I kept!
In suggesting that she maintained "a cold house," Elizabeth Proctor is stating that she was emotionally and sexually detached from her relationship to her husband.
Elizabeth is telling John that she was never clear with her emotions with John.
When Elizabeth talks to John, he is a condemned man. He will be hanged if he does not confess to witchcraft.
John, I counted myself so plain, so poorly made, no honest love could come to me! Suspicion kissed you when I did; I never knew how I should say my love. It were a cold house I kept! (Act 4, scene 2)
Elizabeth blames herself for John’s predicament, to a certain extent. She says, “You take my sins upon you, John” and tells him that she was suspicious of him. In fact, he did cheat on her with Abigail. Yet she never could have predicted the nightmare that would come into their lives when John was asked to confess of witchcraft and refused, to maintain the honor of his name.
She ends by telling him to follow his conscience, but she wants him to confess and save his life. Despite what they have been through, she loves him.