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  • Love and Marriage in the Public Sphere
  • Rochona Majumdar (bio)
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...


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