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For Better, For Worse: British Marriages 1600 to the Present

John R. Gillis (Professor of History, Professor of History, Rutgers University)

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Oxford University Press Inc
27 February 1986
British & Irish history; English Civil War; Sociology: birth; Dating, relationships, living together & marriage
Did you know that...

The contemporary fashion of living together before marriage is far from new, and was frequently practiced in earlier days...

Self-divorce, although never legal, was once a commonplace occurrence...

Marriage is more popular today than in the Victorian era...

Marriage in church was not compulsory in England and Wales until the mid-18th century. These are just a few of the fascinating, and often surprising, revelations in For Better, For Worse, the most comprehensive treatment to date of the history of marriage in a major Western society. Using fresh evidence from popular courtship and wedding rituals over four centuries, Gillis challenges the widely held belief that marriage has evolved from a cold, impersonal arrangement to a more affectionate, egalitarian form of companionship. The truth, argues Gillis, lies somewhere in between: conjugal love was never wholly absent in preindustrial times, while today's marriages are less companionate than is commonly believed. Gillis also illustrates, in rich detail, the perpetual tension between marital ideals and actual practices. This social history of the behavior and emotions of ordinary men and women radically revises our perspective on love and marriage in the past--and the present.
By:   John R. Gillis (Professor of History Professor of History Rutgers University)
Imprint:   Oxford University Press Inc
Country of Publication:   United States
Dimensions:   Height: 236mm,  Width: 158mm,  Spine: 27mm
Weight:   789g
ISBN:   9780195036145
ISBN 10:   019503614X
Pages:   386
Publication Date:   27 February 1986
Audience:   College/higher education ,  Professional and scholarly ,  Professional & Vocational ,  A / AS level ,  Further / Higher Education
Format:   Hardback
Publisher's Status:   Active

Reviews for For Better, For Worse: British Marriages 1600 to the Present

This aspires to be the most comprehensive treatment to date of the history of marriage in a major Western society, and may welt have succeeded - here is more serious enquiry about the history of British marriages than nearly anyone may need. Gillis' own motive for writing it is shrouded in academic cloud-reading: Many may dismiss the courtship and marriage practices of the past as outdated, but I ask them to remember that history is our culture's repository of experience with the more problematic aspects of heterosexuality. If it can help us to understand our own ambivalences and cope more effectively with our present dilemmas, then the purpose of this book will be more than satisfied. Gillis sees present-day marriage as a form of serial conjugality, a sequence of partnerships taken up and abandoned with bewildering rapidity, as men and women seek the perfect mate. Most of us will spend at least two-thirds of our lives as couples, much longer than any previous generation. But conjugal love as a basis for marriage, he finds, is more illusion than reality. Betrothals and weddings have always been used to cement ties of family and community, without which the existence of the couple would not be viable. Love is too fragile a base for establishing a home and family and does not really account for the history of heterosexuality during the past four centuries. All of this may come as a tremendous surprise to today's readers of women's magazines, should they ever stumble upon this artifact, but Gillis has many more surprises up his sleeve. Despite Victorian morality, and even earlier strictures, living together was frequently practiced in times gone by, while marriage is more popular today than a century ago - as is the big church wedding. Gillis discovers that while conjugal love was present - if at a low level - in preindustrial times, marriage today is often not a more companionate affair. Among today's young marrieds in Britain the honeymoon ends at about the third year, with the first pregnancy and the wife, perhaps permanently, no longer working. The loss of the enjoyable dual income brings on the first deep marital crisis. Very few British couples (especially of the working class) pool their incomes. . . Even when a woman is providing supplementary income, she has no money that she can call her own and is accountable for everything she spends out of their joint earnings. . . Even in this conjugal age, when both men and women more readily accept the notion of companionship baaed on liberty and equality, the tension between ideal and reality remains an intractable one. Not likely to make wise people out of prospective couples, but a thoughtful overview of a very giant personal step. Otherwise mainly of interest to cultural anthropologists. (Kirkus Reviews)


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