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146 Canadian Review of American Studies Revue canadienne detudes americaines ance that demarcated liturgical, communitarian, German immigrant societies from pietistic, mostly Methodist, Yankee reformers. Frances W. Kaye University of Nebraska-Lincoln David Peterson del Mar. What Trouble I Have Seen: A History of Violence against Wives. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1996. Pp. xi + 244. What Trouble I Have Seen is at once narrower than suggested by its subtitle, A History of Violence against Wives, and broader than suggested by its actual subject-violence against wives in Oregon, its breadth emerging from David Peterson del Mar's ability to tie wife beating to economic, social, and cultural developments both in the United States and Oregon. There is little in here about violence in other countries, even other states, but there is more than enough information to allow informed readers to compare and generalizeand more than enough information to depress everyone. Much of Peterson del Mar's account is based on court and divorce records, which, since they are admittedly somewhat scanty for Oregon's settlement period, might call into question some of the highlighted trends; Peterson del Mar also identifies individuals from both census and local records; this identification allows him to comment about the possible connections between wife abuse, class, and occupation. In addition, he makes numerous points about ethnicity and wife abuse. As we might hope, but not necessarily expect , given the nature of the topic, What Trouble I Have Seen is informed by the author's wide reading in anthropology and related disciplines which offer insight into domestic violence and, unusually, by a year Peterson del Mar spent as a counsellor to abusive men. No doubt that work heightened his sensitivity to some of the issues; it also led him to conclude that the beliefs of abusive men regarding women are not much different from those of other men. And, he believes, the men he dealt with were both ashamed by their actions and prepared to stop to avoid jail. Wife abuse existed throughout Oregon's history, but Peterson del Mar does not want the consistency of the violence to obscure the story's twists and Book Reviews 147 turns. Despite the difficulty of measuring the incidence of abuse, Peterson del Mar argues that there were considerable fluctuations. The period was not marked by steady improvement. Towards the end of the nineteenth century, violence against wives declined, only to increase again in the twentieth. Women's actions too were variable; sometimes they were more able to resist. Peterson del Mar finds the reasons for the fluctuations not so much in changes in divorce laws (relatively liberal throughout Oregon's history), law enforcement, or women's attitudes but in the overall culture (although whether all the groups he considers are equally influenced by that culture is not clear). Although there was little public violence in Oregon's settlement period, many of the early settlers brought with them a belief that violence was a legitimate means of disciplining wives. Men wanted to be master. Moreover, it was a misogynistic culture, evidenced by husbands' "sexually pejorative conflation of femininity, race, and animality." "A dirty slut with all the neighboring dogs after her," was one husband's characterization of his wife (28). (One of the strengths of What Trouble I Have Seen is the use of singularly well-chosen contemporary quotations.) By the late nineteenth century, however, a "production-oriented ethos emphasizing disciplinedselfcontrol ... made wife beating less acceptable and, apparently, less common" (5). At the same time, an emerging bourgeois culture and an accompanying growing ideal of equality led even abusive husbands to internalize the idea that hitting was unmanly. Women's influence increased; "self-restraint was the handmaiden of feminization'' (51). Peterson del Mar suggests that the decline in the general homicide and assault rate during the nineteenth century brought a decline in wife beating, although one might well wonder whether some men took out built-up frustrations at home. But a general decline blurred other changes. During the 1890s, for example, men more commonly beat wives during pregnancy and around the time of childbirth. What reversed the overall improvement? In the first half of the twentieth century, Peterson del...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1710-114X
Print ISSN
0007-7720
Pages
pp. 146-149
Launched on MUSE
2019-01-02
Open Access
No
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