publisher colophon
Shannon McSheffrey . Marriage, Sex, and Civic Culture in Late Medieval London. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2006. 304 p.; ISBN 978-0-8122-3938-6.
Christina Simmons . Making Marriage Modern: Women's Sexuality from the Progressive Era to World War II. New York: Oxford University Press, 2009. xii + 306 p.; ISBN 978-0-19-506411-7.
Ginger S. Frost . Living in Sin: Cohabiting as Husband and Wife in Nineteenth-Century England. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2008. 272 p.; ISBN 978-0-7190-7736-4.
Maria Raquel Casas . Married to a Daughter of the Land: Spanish-Mexican Women and Interethnic Marriage in California, 1820-1880. Las Vegas: University of Nevada Press, 2007. xiv + 261 p.; ISBN 978-0-87417-697-1.
Jennifer Cole and Lynn Thomas, eds. Love in Africa. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2009. 280 p.; ISBN 978-0-226-11352-4.
Kristin Celello . Making Marriage Work: A History of Marriage and Divorce in the Twentieth-Century United States. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2009. 248 p.; ill.; ISBN 978-0-8078-3252-3.

The association of the modern "West" with ideas of romantic love, companionate marriage, and the nuclear family has a long and varied genealogy. Whether we look at the radically different philosophical expositions of John Locke, G.W.F. Hegel, or Friedrich Engels, or to twentieth-century historians like Philippe Ariès, George Duby, and Lawrence Stone, there remains little doubt that the emergence of the modern West has been seen as coterminous with consensual marriage and conjugal equality. In historian Luisa Passerini's eloquent formulation, the "myth" of Europe was associated with the idea of romantic love.1 The books under consideration in this review are all engaged in revealing the gaps between ideals of romance and conjugal equality and the actual lived experiences of men and women. They interrogate received ideas about love and marriage, primarily in the Anglophone west, from the late medieval period to the present. Of [End Page 182] course, romantic love was never the only reason people married. Love and money, familial security, and citizenship concerns were inextricably linked in making western marriages. Taken together, these books remind us of the labors involved in making a marriage work. While the labor of the couple is unquantifiable, the institution of modern marriage has boosted new professions and economic activity that constitute key features of contemporary Anglo-American capitalism.

The majority of these works are engaged in the critical labor of historicizing the particular forms of romantic love, conjugal equality, and companionate marriage in England and America, demonstrating that love, marriage, divorce, and romantic partnerships were highly contested phenomena. The books collectively make it clear that any attempt to think of love, marriage, divorce, or companionship as homogenous or uniform is fundamentally flawed. Each study helps the reader navigate a particular archive and its vivid portrayal of how intimacy was lived by men and women, and how intimate practices shaped the public sphere in England and the United States. Love in Africa, the only book that focuses on the "non-West," offers a foil for comparison, giving insight into how these purportedly western ideas of romance and marriage get differently inflected in non-western settings.

Since the publication of Georges Duby and Philippe Ariès's multivolume A History of Private Life, the ideology of separate spheres has persistently influenced historical imagination.2 Feminist scholarship has issued numerous challenges to these ideas by showing the porous nature of the public and private spheres, which in turn has bearing on our understanding of marriage. If marriage is not a singularly "private" practice, then under what rubric can we productively think about the place of marriage and sexual relations? Shannon McSheffrey's book, Marriage, Sex, and Civic Culture in Late Medieval London, marks an important addition to these debates. By demonstrating how marriage and sexual practices were formative of medieval English civic culture, McSheffrey shows how anachronistic it is to use categories such as private and public, personal and political for the medieval period. As she argues, ". . . some of those arenas of life that seem obviously 'private' to us were not so categorized in the Middle Ages." Her point is that "we are inheritors of liberal Enlightenment thought" and that the "public/private dyad is neither natural nor universal" (191).

McSheffrey offers a richly textured account of medieval English matrimony: how marriages were "contracted," the role of the church and lay people in marriage regulation, and the status of men and women within marriage. Several factual contributions of this study may well be novel to the non-specialist scholar. For example, McSheffrey notes that marriages in medieval London displayed a surprising degree of individualism. The sacramental bond of marriage, she demonstrates, was created in the first [End Page 183] instance "by the mutual consent of the two parties alone" (21). Marriage vows were binding even when not exchanged in church in the presence of a priest, and people could not be married against their will or on the basis of agreements made by guardians, parents, priests, or community elders. If these features create a picture of unqualified individualism, McSheffrey complicates it through an exploration of "the inherent tensions between the individualism of consent theory and the societal pressures to marry for family advantage and according to community norms" (21). In so doing, she offers some important correctives to certain commonly held assumptions on medieval marriage.

For example, a "clandestine" marriage, or an arrangement made outside the auspices of the church, was not clandestine at all in the eyes of medieval Londoners. Rather, "clandestinity . . . inhered in the secretive and underhanded way in which an improper marriage was fraudulently solemnized" (32). That is, marriages performed without the proper calling of banns or outside of the parishes of the parties getting married were regarded as clandestine. A "contract" which to scholars of the modern period connotes a written agreement between two parties, was, similarly, in the case of medieval London marriages, a "performative utterance" that could be spoken by the contracting parties anywhere: in houses, fields, and taverns, and not necessarily in the church or in the presence of a priest. These peculiarities in marriage practices often gave rise to disputes. There was always the danger of one of the parties (usually the man, in McSheffrey's case studies) jumping off the "marriage train," or refusing to solemnize the marriage in church after the "present-tense" vows previously exchanged (32). These fine-tuned distinctions between marriage as a process rather than a single event, and marriage as both a clandestine and public affair, recur in McSheffrey's account of medieval matrimony.

The role of the church, the nature of vows, and the disputes that arose when vows were not honored support McSheffrey's observation that marriage was simultaneously an intimate and public act (191). This raises the question of who was the proper authority for the regulation of such intimate practices, an issue that McSheffrey addresses in the excellent chapter entitled "Gender, Sex, and Reputation." Citing several contemporary examples, she draws attention to the discrepancies in how men's and women's "good names" were constructed and maintained. "A woman's reputation for chastity and respectability depended," she writes, "not only on her physical integrity but also on her representation in public by a man." Not surprisingly, "a man's reputation for honesty, good fame, and status . . . depended on his ability to protect and control his dependents and to act for them in the political arena" (175). Women emerge from this account as subjects requiring governance while men's reputations depended on [End Page 184] self-regulation of their sexual conduct. The price for male adultery varied, ranging from divorce a mensa et thoro (from table and bed) to the payment of large sums to the chamberlain of the city. While women were not regarded as sovereign sexual beings, the medieval Englishman risked losing control over himself and his dependents if proven guilty of sexual misdemeanors (174-176). This issue of regulation or governance of sexual relations made marriage a part of London's "civic culture" rather than a private affair. The book's principal contribution lies in drawing our attention to the formative role that the regulation of marriage and intimacy assumed in the making of medieval civic culture.

What changes occur in the institution of marriage and the discourses surrounding it to make it modern? Christina Simmons's book, Making Marriage Modern, responds to this question from the context of early twentieth-century America. Simmons meticulously tracks the tripartite discourses surrounding marriage and sexuality among social hygienists, sex radicals, and champions of companionate marriage to demonstrate how the "dominant Victorian" model of marriage came to be replaced by a "modern" one. The book's main burden is to repudiate a "repression-to-liberation" theory of modern American marriage, according to which the repressive Victorian period evolved into an era of liberation in the twentieth century. Thus Simmons argues that modern marriages too were constituted by certain persistent inequalities "in domestic labor, child care, and sexual activity" (11). While scholars like Nancy Cott have established these findings in U.S. women's history, Simmons tries to go beyond prevailing interpretations by examining a diverse archive comprising memoires, marriage manuals, literary works, and writings by early sociologists, psychologists, suffragists, and racial equality and birth control advocates.. The implicit argument of the book is that marriage became modern as the institution itself became the ground for battling out certain ideas of freedom, equality, and rights.

Simmons situates the modernization of American marriage against a backdrop of important socio-economic changes beginning at the turn of the twentieth century. These included the rise in female employment, the demand and granting of women's suffrage, and the increasing availability and discussion in the public sphere of erotica, sexual acts, abortion, contraceptives, scientific and speculative writing about sex and sexuality. All these factors fueled anxieties about established hierarchies of gender and race within the family and in marriage. Simmons draws attention to the ways in which three different social groups—social hygienists, sex radicals, and advocates of companionate marriages—responded to these socio-cultural and economic transformations. It was the traffic between these macro-level changes and private life that produced a distinct form of modern marriage. [End Page 185]

The core of Simmons's book is an analysis of responses by social hygienists, or men and women with a purportedly scientific approach to the problems arising from the more widespread and open sexual relations of early twentieth-century American society; sex-radicals who questioned the institution of marriage as the most expressive ground for emotional and sexual attachments; and advocates of companionate marriage who straddled a middle ground between these two aforementioned groups. As Simmons analyzes the historical materials left behind by proponents of each group, she remains attentive to internal differences that were often calibrated by gender and race.

The social hygiene debates, for example, "stood halfway between the earlier female-dominated purity movement and a growing male-dominated scientific and public health establishment" (28). By emphasizing science rather than morality, social hygienists broke from the Victorian model of sexuality while remaining strong advocates of sexual restraint. Their efforts were significant. Thanks to social hygienists, the increasing incidence of sexually transmitted diseases in the 1910s and 1920s among the working class and African Americans was treated as a health issue rather than the byproduct of some natural predilection of these groups. This in turn allowed African American and working-class advocates to claim "their own place in civilized morality," thereby arguing for the "need and entitlement" of blacks, the working classes, and women to learn more about sex education (49-52).

In contrast to the hygienists, sex radicals sought to express a more trenchant critique of the state, community, and familial control. Rejecting the nineteenth-century model of romantic love, radicals promoted "a new, more psychologically and sexually intimate relationship" between men and women and within the same sex (73). Moreover, they regarded sexual activity as something inherently life affirming and often saw marriage as an abnormal check upon innate human impulses. Simmons's accounts of these discourses bring to life radicals' debates about the potential of interracial and same-sex unions, along with their critique of enforced heterosexuality as embodied in reproductive sex and marriage.

Notwithstanding the archival richness of this monograph, Simmons's study raises a question about method, as she rarely moves beyond the narrow chronological period of her inquiry to see the international scope of the conversations she documents. For example, Simmons never tells exactly what radicals meant by romantic love. Was it the equivalent of sexual freedom? If so, it is important to underscore the uniqueness of this definition, as romantic love had a different connotation in the European setting. Moreover, one wonders if early twentieth-century American discussions by hygienists or sex radicals on romantic love, companionate marriage, intimacy, and [End Page 186] sexual freedom bore any mark of the global traffic in ideas. For example, the debates between the birth control advocate Margaret Sanger (an important figure in Simmons's discussions on social hygiene) and the Indian political leader M.K. Gandhi are well known. The historian of gender and South Asia Mrinalini Sinha's fine book on the furor created by Katherine Mayo's infamous Mother India documents the widespread controversy generated by this American Progressive lady in an arena beyond the United States. Likewise, recent research on the "modern girl" around the world demonstrates the global scope of many of these questions.3 Finally, were there any differences between Simmons's sex radicals and their nineteenth-century precursors, discussed by the historians Nancy Cott and Christine Stansell in The Grounding of Modern Feminism and American Moderns respectively?4 Read with Simmons's book, Ginger Frost's Living in Sin offers interesting possibilities of dialogue. Simmons argues that the alternative visions presented by social hygienists, sex radicals, and champions of companionate marriage were too heterogeneous to produce a singular ideal of marriage. Despite her keen attention to the differences in these alternative currents of thought, however, Simmons imputes a monolithic homogeneity upon Victorian sexual and marital mores. Frost's book, based on a study of cohabiting couples from all classes in Victorian England, calls into question the sameness attributed to marriages and intimate relationships in this period. While historians like John Gillis and Ellen Ross have for several decades analyzed the distinct patterns of the British laboring classes, we have assumed that except for a few unusual people, the ideal of monogamous marriage was a constitutive social and cultural element of the middle classes. Frost's contribution is to show that cohabitation outside of marriage stretched beyond the working poor and sometimes even into self-identified respectable circles. Examining texts by well-known figures like George Eliot, police records of neglect and desertion cases, newspaper reports, records from the foundling hospital at the London Metropolitan Archives, the Royal Commissions on Marriage of 1848 and 1912, reports of the Women's Cooperative Guild, and writings on the poor by middle-class observers like Henry Mayhew and Charles Booth, Frost offers enough evidence to support the presence of cohabitation among the poorer and working-class segments of English society and among the middle classes. Cross-class unions also existed. While many contemporaries regarded such unions as "revolting to the opinions and feelings of mankind," others, like the Reverend Andrew Mearns, described them as a simple fact of English life: "Ask if the men and women living together in these rookeries are married, and your simplicity will cause a smile. Nobody knows. Nobody cares" (59, 133).

Frost attributes the rise in cohabitation to the Hardwicke Marriage Act of 1753, which tightened the rules by which marriages could be validated. [End Page 187] Hereafter marriage ceased to be regarded as a sacrament and came under direct control of parliament. The relative ease with which marriages were solemnized in late medieval England, as explained in McSheffrey's book, came to an end with the Hardwicke Act, after which an increasing number of couples found themselves outside the parameters of marriage. Also critical was the narrow scope of English divorce laws, which failed to expedite divorce even in cases of violence, insanity, alcoholism, or mutual incompatibility. This contributed in no small measure to the rise of cohabitation among men and women estranged from their marriage partners.

Let me close this discussion of Living in Sin by focusing on two important observations made by Frost. The first has to do with the precarious nature of the lives of those women who "lived in sin." Cohabiting women could not put their children up for adoption, nor were there any guarantees of support from their male partners in the event of a break-up. Despite these disadvantages, the numbers and significance of such partnerships did not diminish. This leads Frost to her second insight on the symbolic importance of the expression "marriage." Even for couples who lived in unconventional relationships, marriage remained the preferred moniker that best described their union: "marriages of heart and soul" (99). The desire to describe themselves as married, despite the fact that they did not go through with the ceremonial or legal aspects of a socially recognized ritual, highlights the affective influence of the institution upon hundreds of men and women.

If the normative definition of marriage that emerges from these accounts is, to paraphrase Hegel, that of an idealized union of two souls resulting from their free consent, then the other three books reviewed in this essay point to the vast swathes of human emotions that get left out in the construction of such a norm.5 It is not insignificant that two of the books in question deal with non-white populations. The first is Maria Raquel Casas's Married to a Daughter of the Land, which addresses interethnic marriages between indigenous and Mexican women and Euro-American men. The second is Love in Africa, a volume co-edited by the anthropologist Jennifer Cole and the historian Lynn Thomas.

Casas's work is a useful corrective to earlier colonization narratives that viewed interethnic marriages with European and American men as a sign of "peaceful and beneficial conquest" (10). Rather, through a nuanced study of these unions before and after the Mexican-American war, Casas demonstrates that marriage was occasionally about romance but much more frequently about questions of survival, power, legal status, financial stability, and new opportunities for men and women. In particular, Casas highlights women's agency despite the disadvantages of education and age disparities with their husbands. Prior to 1800, there were few Spanish-American women in California. Thus the majority of Spanish-American [End Page 188] men found spouses among the "neophytes," or native women who had converted to Catholicism and become Hispanicized. Interethnic alliances became increasingly common as Euro-American economic and political power grew in California over the long nineteenth century. In the uncharted but rich terrain of California, men and women used marriage to obtain and maintain social and racial status. Yet as her discussions of Maria Teresa de la Guerra y Noreiga (51-67) or Concepcion (81-88) show, marriage was hardly a guarantee of wealth or conjugal harmony.

Casas's account is unsurprisingly critical of colonial era histories such as those by Hubert Howe Bancroft, who held up interethnic marriages as proof of a "romantic California" in which "Californianas supposedly desired to marry 'white' men, 'white' men desired access to land, and the United States desired to portray the invasion of California as largely un-traumatic for the invaded peoples" (80). Instead, Casas argues that reality was quite different from these "mummified" views of the past. Especially after the Mexican-American War, women sought these unions to cope with a changing legal and financial order, and to maintain their Californio identities through their roles as mothers and wives. For Euro-American men, marriage was a means of incorporation into the frontier society, and an access to land ownership and political power.

By focusing on intermarriage, Casas's book highlights the composite nature of American identity. Love in Africa, a collection of essays by historians and anthropologists, offers a window into the creation of non-western selves by analyzing how Africans received and adopted western ideas about romance, love, and marriage. Thomas's and Cole's introduction offers an incisive analysis of why the topic of love—with its attendant connotations of romance and companionate marriage—has been overwhelmingly ignored in social scientific studies of Africa, which privilege research on kinship and bridewealth in ways that suggest these practices were sealed off from questions of sentiment and affect. Africans, it has long been argued, privilege marriages in which the family and larger kin group played a more critical role than individuals, whose agency was minimal. Even marriages contracted by individuals were depicted as the result of material considerations rather than out non-material, spiritual, and romantic longings (1-20).

The essays in this volume, which range from the early twentieth century to the present, offer one of best revisionist accounts of love and other emotions in Africa. Cole and Thomas argue that far from being absent from the African emotional landscape, love is the idiom through which men and women have come to terms with generational and cultural distinctions. Such a fresh history of emotions in Africa is meant to counter the bias fostered by nineteenth- and early twentieth-century missionaries, colonizers, and scholar administrators who claimed that poverty and lack of modernization [End Page 189] made Africans incapable of cultivating and experiencing the "bonds of love" (13). The authors demonstrate instead that "Africans have long remade local affective ideals and practices by engaging those from elsewhere" (5).

Contributions by Lynn Thomas and Daniel Jordan Smith illustrate such engagements by analyzing African responses to ideas of romantic love and companionate marriage in the burgeoning print culture and advice literature of the mid-twentieth century. Others by Laura Fair, Lynn Thomas, Rachel Spronk, Adeline Masquelier, and Kenda Mutongi highlight the ways young people have utilized a variety of media—newspaper advice columns, Hindi films, magazines, television, and counseling classes—to accommodate romantic love and the couple form with other ideas about familial and sexual propriety and probity. For example, Fair analyzes how Africans accommodated norms of the romantic duo with those of the extended family by investigating the impact of Hindi films in 1960s and 1970s Zanzibar.

As in Casas's account, both love and exchange are key components of intimate relationships, and to treat them separately would be a conceit of the liberal capitalist West. The authors Cole and Hunter argue that it is important to relativize the notion that considerations of money taint love, for this judgment is inseparable from certain strains of Christian and Enlightenment era thinking that have become universal due to the spread of colonial knowledge. Cole's essay illustrates this critique through a conceptual history of the Malagasy word fitiavina, whose semantic field covers a range of emotions including "to be loved, "to be liked," "to prefer," "to desire," among others. While fitiavina bears some parallels with Western notions of romantic love, Cole maps the ways this concept both accommodated and collided with ideas of exchange among youth in post-liberalization Madagascar (109-34). Finally, even as romantic love finds acceptance among African women as a strategy to combat gender inequities, the idea faces many challenges as it is operationalized on the ground. Faced with long standing family norms, the urban-rural divide, and more recent problems as the AIDS epidemic, Africans modify notions of romantic love in ways that are often harder on women. But the locale, time period, and social group each scholar studies leads to interesting overlaps and differences in the ways love plays out in particular African contexts.

Although the salience of marriage in personal life, politics, and the public sphere is indisputable, it is by no means reducible to easy typologies applicable to every society at any given time. The books under discussion establish that even as individuals in particular societies claimed that the institution was in crisis, marriage as a practice lent itself to debate, rhetoric, and reform in unanticipated ways. Given the amount of ink that has been spilled on analyzing how marriages are contracted or the conditions that give rise to marital crises, it is surprising that the "work" that goes into [End Page 190] keeping a marriage going has not received comparable historical attention. The business of salvaging marriages in crisis is no longer an unremunerated service rendered by the family or the church. Rather, a marriage industry includes experts and counselors engaged in the "work" of saving marriages. This brings us to Kristin Celello's engaging, novel, and thoughtful book, Making Marriage Work.

Celello writes about one of the most visible and lucrative aspects of the marriage industry: the rise, spread, and acceptance of a body of expert knowledge from purveyors of marital health. Like Simmons, Cole, and Thomas, the backdrop of Celello's analysis is the macro-level socio-economic changes that put strain on households and couples. In the nineteenth-century United States, couples generally performed the gendered roles assigned to them by societal norms. By the twentieth century, such norms were in crisis due to the socio-economic upheaval generated by two world wars, economic depression, and post-war reconstruction. As financial and other pressures on the nuclear family unit rose, the companionate couple form that undergirded an ideal marriage in the West came into crisis. Celello illustrates different social responses to the anxieties surrounding marriage, such as the disquiet among religious authorities as well as secular bodies about rising divorce rates. These factors gave rise to a "new group of scientifically minded experts" whose social authority has continued to expand in the twentieth century (9).

The rise of the marriage experts as a recognizable socio-economic group began in the interwar years, when a "debate . . . raged throughout the United States . . . regarding the desirability and future prospects of war marriages" (48). Celello's account of the positions taken by marriage experts on hastily executed war weddings reminds us of the ways the health of marriage was discursively linked with the health of the nation-state. Soldiers who fought in the war did so not simply out of an allegiance to abstract patriotic ideals but for "a tangible better life" for their "wives and children" (51). Experts did not equally target advice at husbands and wives. Women were under greater pressure to marry during and after the war, and women felt the burden of making marriage work more acutely. During the war, marriage became a woman's patriotic duty; after the war, as the economy prospered and more women joined the workforce, fears about the tenuous future of the "American family" fueled the growth of the marriage industry, which typically targeted wives rather than husbands. Experts ruled that saving a marriage was more the work of wives than husbands. From the 1950s, journals, newspaper columns, and television shows proffered a variety of advice to women on how to appear marriageable and eventually maneuver a man to propose. These media taught American women the art of internalizing [End Page 191] the idea that "hard work could help them overcome any problem" in marriage—including "alcoholism, violence, and chronic infidelity" (77).

Celello's narrative highlights how class and race pertained to the marriage industry, as mostly white and middle-class members demonized particular social groups, such as unmarried African American mothers. Yet the social prestige of a functional marriage was such that it drew African American magazines such as Ebony and Jet to patronize many of the same experts. With the growth of the advice industry, words such as "commitment" and "communication" acquired a particular charge in designating marriage as work. It became part of a hegemonic commonsense as the twentieth century progressed to seek professional help to have a healthy and functional marriage. The numbers of therapists and marriage counselors also skyrocketed. Marriage thus played a formative role in shaping the public sphere in modern America. Celello's book alerts us to the ways the mediation of marriage experts equated the health of the nation with marital health and family values. In the twenty-first century, civil unions and gay marriage have once again made the health and future of marriage a contentious issue in public life; surely, experts and counselors will again play an important role as these debates unfold in years to come. But as Celello cautions, "the idea that successful marriage took work" is "adaptable to a changing social and political context" (162). No doubt the future will witness many mutations in the nature of experts and the advice they dispense for securing marital health in the United States.

As the range of works cited above suggests, the historiography on marriage has flourished over the last decade. The books under review testify to the loss that scholars would incur by pigeonholing love, marriage, and sexuality to a putatively private or women's realm. Like the best of feminist scholarship, which questions universal models and shows that general templates are ill fitted to specific cases, all of these books draw their energy from the desire to challenge prevailing wisdom. Each scholar has unearthed new and interesting archives to present detailed narratives of marriage, divorce, live-in relationships, and marital crimes through a close reading of that data. Despite their archival novelty, however, the books do not substantially add to our already established conceptual ideas about marriage and family in the United States and England during the period under review. Most of the scholars under consideration work with a broadly liberal conception of women's rights, and thus the story of marriage becomes one where women struggle to secure more rights for themselves as individuals. The cumulative effect of these struggles is the creation of a discursive space in which equality between spouses emerges as the dominant desire in marriage. Yet there are moments in some of the books, such as Frost's account of the [End Page 192] affective investment cohabiting couples had in describing their unions as marriage, or Simmons's descriptions of free love, where the analysis could have been enriched by stepping out of the liberal repertoire of rights and self-interest. Was it only ideological pressures that prompted women to enter matrimony? Is there any other intellectual vocabulary—such as one of spirituality or sacrifice—through which we can understand the place of marriage in Anglo-America? As I have argued elsewhere, "Ideology surely played a part in the creation of the pleasures and problems of everyday life and was not simply a post-facto rationalization of naked power and interest."6 If this is true, along with the struggle for rights within marriage was also the articulation of sentiments of love and devotion that are difficult to accommodate in a liberal-feminist understanding of marriage. Recent histories of love and marriage in the "non-West" have sought to understand the development of feminism or companionate marriage as a more dynamic struggle between liberal ideas of self-interest and non-liberal notions of sacrifice and duty. An engagement with this literature has the potential to produce a more nuanced reading of the rich archives we have discussed.

This argument does not arise from my own location as a South Asian feminist historian. Many of the phenomena under discussion here were topics of global debate. With the exception of Love in Africa, these books demonstrate little reflexivity about this fact. Colonial domination and anti-colonial resistance often invoked and contested normative ideas about marriage and sexuality in ways that made these themes global. Historians of China, India, and the Middle East, for example, have shown that debates over companionate versus arranged marriage raged in these parts of the world from the nineteenth century on.7 They have also examined discussions on individual agency and familial authority; love and money; sexual freedom and chastity; and marriage as a public, civic, and intimate institution versus marriage as a domain of state control. This is not to diminish the merits of the works under review or to dissuade scholars from a deep engagement with a particular place, but places themselves are constituted in conversation. These comments are therefore offered as an invitation to historians of marriage and gender to initiate an engaged dialogue with those who write connected and comparative histories.

Rochona Majumdar

Rochona Majum dar is associate professor in the department of South Asian Languages and Civilizations and Cinema and Media Studies at the University of Chicago. She is the author of Marriage and Modernity: Family Values in Colonial Bengal (Duke University Press and Oxford University Press, 2009) and Writing Postcolonial History (Bloomsbury Academic, 2010).


1. Luisa Passerini, Europe in Love, Love in Europe (New York: New York University Press, 1999), 1-26.

2. Philipe Aries and Georges Duby eds., A History of Private Life, 5 volumes (Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard) 1987-1991. [End Page 193]

3. Mrinalini Sinha, Specters of Mother India: The Global Restructuring of an Empire (Durham: Duke University Press, 2006); Tani Barlow, Priti Ramamurthy et al. eds., The Modern Girl Around the World: Consumption, Modernity, and Globalization (Durham: Duke University Press), 2008.

4. Nancy Cott, The Grounding of Modern Feminism (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1987); Christine Stansell, American Moderns: Bohemian New York and the Creation of a New Century (New York: Metropolitan Books, 2000).

5. G. W. F. Hegel, Philosophy of Right, Translated with notes by T. M. Knox, (New York: Oxford University Press, 1980), 112-15.

6. Rochona Majumdar, Marriage and Modernity: Family Values in Colonial Bengal (Durham: Duke University Press, 2009), 161.

7. Lila Abu-Lughod, Remaking Women: Feminism and Modernity in the Middle East (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press), 1998; Tanika Sarkar, Hindu Wife, Hindu Nation (Bloomington: Indiana University Press), 2001; and Tani Barlow, Priti Ramamurthy et al. eds., The Modern Girl Around the World: Consumption, Modernity, and Globalization (Durham: Duke University Press, 2008). [End Page 194]

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