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"Vast in theme and with a cast of characters beyond counting, the result is a 'War and Peace' of social history."--New York Times Book Review.
- 'The public, life of a people is a very small thing compared to its private life.'
- (G. d'Avenel, Les Francais de mon Temps, Paris, 1904, P. 1)
- 'To judge fairly of those who lived long before us...we should put quite apart both the usages and the notions of our own age...and strive to adopt for the moment such as prevailed in theirs.'
- (Lady Louisa Stuart, c. 1827, in Letters and Journals ofLady Mary Coke, ed. J. A. Horne, Edinburgh 1889, I, p. xxxv)
- 'We have very little of correctly detailed domestic history, the most valuable of all as it Would enable us to make comparisons...'
- (The Autobiography of Francis Place, c. 1823-6. ed. M.
- Thale, Cambridge, 1972, p. 91)
1. The Pattern Of Change
The subject of this book can be stated fairly simply. It is an attempt to chart and document, to analyse and explain, some massive shifts in world views and value systems that occurred in England over a period of some three hundred years, from 1500 to 1800. These vast and elusive cultural changes expressed themselves in changes in the ways members of the family related to each other, in terms of legal arrangements, structure, custom, power, affect and sex. The main stress is on how individuals thought about, treated and used each other, and how they regarded themselves in relation to God and to various levels of social organization, from the nuclear family to the state. The microcosm of the family is used to open a window on to this widerlandscape of cultural change.
The critical change is that from distance, deference and patriarch to what I have chosen to call affective individualism. I believe this to have been perhaps the most important change in mentalite to have occurred in the Early Modern period, indeed possibly in the last thousand years of Western history.
The four key features of the modern family -- intensified affective bonding of the nuclear core at the expense of neighbours and kin; a strong sense of individual autonomy and the right to personal freedom in the pursuit of happiness; a weakening of the association of sexual pleasure with sin and guilt; and a growing desire for physical privacy -- were all well established by 1750 in the key middle and upper sectors of English society.
Further stages in the diffusion of this new family type did not take place until the late nineteenth century, after a period of nearly a century during which many of the developments that have been described had gone into reverse. When forward movement picked up again at the end of the nineteenth century, it involved a spread of the domesticated family ideal up into the higher court aristocracy and down into the masses of artisans and respectable wage-earners who composed the bulk of the population.
This is not the first time that problems of this sort have been studied, for they are similar to some of those with which both Max Weber and Jacob Burckhardt wrestled more than three-quarters of a century ago. They too were obsessed with the complex inter-relationships thanks to which changes in culture emerged from changes in religion, social structure, political organization, economics, literacy and so on. Neither Weber nor Burckhardt solved these problems either to their own or to posterity's full satisfaction, and I cannot hope to succeed where scholars of such pre-eminent distinction have partly failed. But it is worth making a new effort, using a much narrower focus, in a different national context and in the light of another seventy-five years or so of historical scholarship, if only because these issues are so central to the evolution of Western civilization.
Early Modern English society was composed of a number of very distinct status groups and classes: the court aristocracy, the county gentry, the parish gentry, the mercantile and professional elite, the small property owners in town and country. the respectable and struggling wage-earners, and the totally destitute who lived on charity and their wits. These constituted more or less self-contained cultural units, with their own communication networks, their own systems of value and their own Patterns of acceptable behaviour. Internal cultural divisions between social groups ran much deeper than they do today, when the differences are as much between generations as between classes. As time went on and as writing and printing spread to become the main vehicle for the diffusion of ideas, the degree to which different social strata used or were affected by this new means of expression brought with it still more marked divisions. The result was less the supersession of one family pattern and set of familial values by another than the provision of a widening number of quite different patterns.
Attitudes and customs which were normal for one class or social stratum were often quite different from those which were normal in another. Such changes as took place sometimes affected one class but not others; for example, the rising rates of pre-marital pregnancy and illegitimacy affected the peasantry, the artisans, and the poor in the late eighteenth century, but not the upper middle class, the gentry and the aristocracy. Other changes, for example the drift towards a more child-oriented attitude, affected different groups at widely different times, taking a century or more to flow from one to another. Other powerful influences were confined to a single class. Thus possession of property to be handed down vitally affected family structures and marriage arrangements among the propertied classes, but left the propertyless masses untouched. Conversely, the pressures of urbanization and industrialization profoundly affected the poor, but hardly impinged on the lives of the nobility in any significant way...The Family, Sex and Marriage. Copyright © by Lawrence Stone. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.