History of Marriage Paperback – Dec 29 2009
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Quill & Quire
What are the core values of marriage? How does money, or the lack of it, affect the roles of spouses? What became of the double standard that permitted “a husband to take legal action against a wife who managed to withhold sex,” while “a wife could not lay rape charges against a husband who forced sex on her?” These are some of the questions Elizabeth Abbott probes in A History of Marriage, the third volume in an ad hoc trilogy that began with A History of Celibacy and continued with A History of Mistresses. (One wonders why the current volume did not precede the middle one.)
The volume is divided into two parts. The first traces the evolution of marriage, while the second examines contemporary marriage and its potential future. Abbott focuses on the North American experience of marriage and its European antecedents, beginning with New France in the 17th century (although the text occasionally reaches back even further in time).
Some of the pleasures of this volume are the paintings, sketches, and photographs that amplify the text. Highlights include a late-19th-century advertisement for a vibrator (“the fifth electrified domestic appliance after the sewing machine”) that euphemistically notes the device’s erotic potential, and an 1813 satirical sketch by George Cruikshank of the London social club Almack’s, a marriage mart for the elite.
Abbott’s evident passion for her subject and lively style of writing make A History of Marriage an absorbing read. Notwithstanding the topic’s extraordinary breadth, however, the book suffers from an embarrassment of riches. The author, a research associate at the University of Toronto’s Trinity College, loves facts, and the deluge she provides begs for more filtering and synthesis. In one chapter, the reader learns that in some Crow tribes, the “berdache,” or “two spirit” people, embodying both male and female qualities, were permitted to marry partners of the same sex; that polyandry, a system under which women possess multiple husbands, has no North American history; and that the ancient Hebrews practised the levirate system, which required men to marry their brothers’ widows.
With its encyclopaedic range, the book feels encumbered by the sheer weight of its own erudition. A more incisive focus might have produced a stronger work.
"Elizabeth Abbott has penned a masterpiece...a wide-ranging account of how the social intersects with many forms of the personal."—Ahmad Saidullah, author of Happiness and Other Disorders
"Deftly shows how this always fragile, yet always resilient institution has evolved. It's not always a pretty picture but it's a fascinating one."—Judith Timson, author of Family Matters
"No thoughtful person—married, celibate, unfaithful or otherwise—should be without this book."—Mark Kingwell, author of The World We Want
"This book is like taking a centuries-long, world-wide trip down a petal-strewn aisle, and I loved it. If you enjoy a good wedding, are first in line to dance The Hora, or you've divorced yourself from boring reads, then find A History of Marriage."—Long Island Pulse
"[A History of Marriage] weaves stories and facts in a kind of loosely fluid narrative that makes pleasant reading. The author has a flair for sweetening the facts with her palatable style."—Kirkus
From the Trade Paperback edition.
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Top Customer Reviews
The second half of the book brings all these themes and some others ' the single state as an alternative to marriage, gay marriage - right up to the present, also always with individual examples. This includes photographs with detailed captions that bring her stories to life. (A few of the photographs are a bit blurred and/or too small.)
A History of Marriage was a fantastic read with a depth of research, an organization of material and a writing style that kept me glued to the pages from beginning to end.
However, I felt some parts of the book felt repetitive, mentioning the same tidbits of the same history and bringing up the same arguments. I also feel the need to disagree with some of the historical accuracies - for example, with the writings of Martin Luther (For some reason, he is mentioning quite often in comparison to many other writers/reformers/philosophers etc) I don't feel the author covered much of his own history properly, focusing mainly on the negative without following any other sort of liberal and modern views that the Luther family did have.(I would continue, but I won't fill up the space with an essay. But to casually make a quick one note: Martin was heavily involved in child care, he thought adamantly that women were under the same life burdens as men, were of equal value and disaproved of prejudices against women. Katharina was part doctor, part financial advisor and part business woman and was involved and informed of his writings. And no, after she left the convent, her main goal was NOT to get married and start a family. Too independent-minded for that, especially after leaving a tight establishment. People have to understand that his views as a single celibate monk changed significantly after he became a married man with babies. Why do so many focus mainly on the "sexist" parts?)
In addition, the chapter discussing the present and future of marriage had many subchapters that felt out of place, on occasion falling a tiny bit out of topic.Read more ›