Posts Tagged With: history

Marriage, a History: How Love Conquered Marriage

Marriage, a HistoryMarriage, a History: How Love Conquered Marriage by Stephanie Coontz

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This book. This book is so freaking brilliant. Every once in a while you come across that treasure of treasures: The readable, well-researched, topical historical book. Something that is written so engagingly and interestingly, you read it like a novel, unable to put it down. Something that is so well researched that almost every sentence has a reference, and something that is so relevant that you keep thinking, “Oh, so that’s why society as a whole thinks this or does that or acts this way.”  It’s a really fantastic and very accessible read.

Basically, marriage used to be more of a social contract, even for the peasants and such. It was about improving the family situation and adding to the community. This was generally true no matter which social level you were at, the material goods involved just changed as you moved up the scale. A peasant might hope for a spouse with livestock or land and strong work ethic, as well as a family tendency to have lots of healthy children; a landowner might hope for a spouse with adjacent land or merchant-style talents; a noble would hope for a spouse who can increase their social standing; a monarch would seek a spouse who could provide a useful alliance to their country and strengthen their hold on throne. No matter which social strata, the driving factor behind determining a marriage was the effect said marriage would have on your community and family — the hope was for a marriage with affection or at least a tolerable kindness, but it was not a primary decider in whom the spouse would be.

The Catholic church/ papacy became involved in the political aspect of highborn weddings as early as 481, with Clovis and Clothild, so fairly early on in their history.

At various points throughout history, the Catholic church has even argued that marriage is not desirable, because of sex and the potential for putting one’s spouse/ worldly situation above the cares of god. If one could not control their bodily lusts, marriage was better than nothing, but the really preferable thing would be to eschew all worldly concerns and go celibate. It was around the industrial revolution and the shift away from agrarian communities that we also began to shift toward the idea of the “love match,” which led to all sorts of interesting social ramifications (such as the idea of ending your marriage because you “weren’t happy” anymore).

Read the book, it’s awesome. Marriage used to be more about the social contract and impact on the communities; the Catholic Church got involved initially in the political/ highborn marriages and a few centuries later began getting concerned about recording/ policing all marriages; the industrial revolution started the shift away from agrarian communities and families and increased the focus on individuals which indirectly led to the growth of the marriage for love idea. It’s a fascinating history. Coontz’s writing and research is seriously brilliant. This should be required reading. I loved it. Mind. Blown.

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Categories: History (non-fiction), Reviews, Social & Applied Sciences, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Daughter of Time

The Daughter of TimeThe Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey

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Apparently Josephine Tey normally wrote mysteries. Not a big mystery fan, myself — especially if there are multiple murders involved — but Tey’s writing is intriguing and compelling enough that I may make an exception for her.

This mystery is more of a historical puzzle, which is why I picked it up. I love those questions historical figures have left in the cloth of our reality, and I enjoy the quest to solve them. This particular mystery has to do with the Princes in the Towers, who were murdered around the beginning of the Tudor reign in Europe. Apparently it’s commonly accepted that Richard III, last of the Plantagenet dynasty, killed them.

Using the device of an injured policeman bored with his hospital stay, Tey examines the evidence for and against Richard III murdering his nephews and looks at other possible murderers.

It’s a great book, and does what I think all great books examining history should do — makes the reader want to know more. I’ve been researching the Plantagenet’s and early Tudors since I read this book.

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The State of Jones

The State of JonesThe State of Jones by Sally Jenkins

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This amazing history book reads like a novel. I was fascinated at every turn: The description of the siege at Vicksburg, the utter decimation visited on the South as wartime policy, and the heartrending aftermath of the war. I’d been aware that blacks had been granted the vote in the immediate aftermath of the Civil War; I had never fully understood why the federal government allowed Jim Crow laws and the essential reversal of all the North fought for.

This beautifully written tome explains a great deal of how deep and all-encompassing not only Southern pride, but Southern racism really was. Is? It didn’t touch on current politics, seeming to assume that in the decades since the Civil Rights Act, the teeming morass of racism, classism and political division has been largely tamped — or perhaps assuming it best not to touch on current issues.

I finished this book shocked and horrified at all the atrocities committed during the Civil War and the following decades. During the first part of the book, Newton Knight and his band of Unionists reminded me so much of Robin Hood that I was actually disappointed when Confederate generals succeeded in hanging or shooting men from Jones County. Disappointed not just for the pointless deaths, but that Knight hadn’t ridden down like an avenging angel and stopped the Confederate troops after they caught his men.

Ridiculous, I know, but seriously. Read about Knight defying Confederate-installed sheriffs, robbing from rich plantation owners to feed the poor whites and emancipated slaves, and living in the Mississippi swamps throughout the war and try not to make the Robin Hood parallel.

It’s a boldly written, beautifully pieced-together book. It’s rife with heroism, love, and betrayal — all on both a grand and a personal scale. This is probably the most evocative, intriguing look at the Civil War South I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading.

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Calico Captive

Calico CaptiveCalico Captive by Elizabeth George Speare

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This is one of those books (like Johnny Tremain) that I read as a kid and loved. I never did own a copy, but I checked it out from the library so often it was at my house more often than at the library.

It follows the story of Miriam, a young English colonial, who is captured by Indians during the French and Indian war. She’s sold as a slave to some French Quebecoise, where she begins to make a name for herself as a seamstress.

However, Miriam was not the only one captured — her sister, nieces and nephew were also captured and enslaved. Miriam and her sister are faced with many hard choices as they try to pay their slave debts (if I recall, it’s been a while since I read it) in Quebec, bring their family back together and eventually make their way home.

As Miriam’s seamstress business becomes more successful, she’s courted by a handsome French soldier — a moral dilemma, as he’s allied with the same Indians who attacked her colony, and he fights and kills the British colonials she loves. At the same time, he helps her track down her scattered nieces and nephew, and assists Miriam in widening her clientele base.

I’ve always loved this book, though I have to admit I rooted for the French solider. I always wanted Miriam to marry him and leave her stodgy English roots. Apparently the book is based on the diary of a real-life Miriam who actually experienced these events (I guess they left out all the rape-iness), so extra points for bringing history alive.

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Johnny Tremain

Johnny TremainJohnny Tremain by Esther Forbes

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I haven’t read this in ages and ages, but I’ve been telling so many people about it lately that I figured I should just go ahead and put up a review.

Johnny Tremain is, quite simply, among my absolute favorite books. It’s one of the beautiful childhood literary experiences that introduced me to my enduring love of historical fiction — and not incidentally, to my love of history. Because of Johnny Tremain,  the events of the Revolutionary War became real to me on a personal level. This is the book that first breathed life into history for me, and made it something real and amazing that was pertinent to my daily world. This is the book which first helped me realize that while actual time travel isn’t possible, I can still witness and experience history through the pages of a book.

Johnny Tremain also introduced me to concepts and language that were new and strange to a 10 year old girl in 1990, such as “apprenticeship” and “sweetmeats.” As a child being raised in a strictly religious household that eschewed cursing, I was also inspired and intrigued by Johnny’s colorful solution to his own household’s ban on swearing.

I read it so often as a kid that my copy of it — which was the edition pictured above, a paperback version with an actual paper-style cover — fell apart due to the frequent readings. I taped it together, but by the time I was 17, all the tape in the world couldn’t save it’s life. I did buy a new copy, which I read often enough even as an adult that the spine was starting to show abuse and the pages were worn soft by the time my dog chewed it up.

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