Social Concerns / Themes

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

Most writers who have been forced to make ends meet through college teaching have eventually published a university novel; Conjure Wife is Leiber's unusual entry into the subgenre. Hired to teach speech and acting at Occidental College in Los Angeles in September of 1941, Leiber quit after only one year despite having earned a reputation as a competent teacher. That he disliked the politics of university life can be inferred from the basic premise of his novel. Various biographers have argued that Hempnell College is either Occidental College or Leiber's alma mater, the University of Chicago, though it probably partakes of both.

Saylor does not at first believe that Tansy's magic has protected him, even after things start to go wrong for him. Eventually, however, he begins to realize that women's magic is not only real, but ubiquitous. He and the rest of male society have spent their entire lives immersed in the supernatural, all unaware. The scientific and skeptical male mindset is in fact a result of a sort of selective blindness. Women as a group have never accepted a mechanistic view of the universe and have been secretly manipulating their men folk with magic since the beginning of time. Although Saylor eventually does accept the legitimacy of his wife's powers and those of the other faculty wives who nearly destroy him and in fact encourages Tansy to renew her efforts in his defense, the novel demonstrates the somewhat ambiguous and...

(The entire section is 251 words.)