Marriage and Violence: The Early Modern Legacy

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Marriage is often described as a melding of two people into one. But what—or who—must be lost, fragmented, or buried in that process? We have inherited a model of marriage so flawed, Frances E. Dolan contends, that its logical consequence is conflict.

Dolan ranges over sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Puritan advice literature, sensational accounts of "true crime," and late twentieth-century marriage manuals and films about battered women who kill their abusers. She reads the inevitable Taming of the Shrew against William Byrd's diary of life on his Virginia plantation, Noel Coward's Private Lives, and Barbara Ehrenreich's assessment in Nickel and Dimed of the relationship between marriage and housework. She traces the connections between Phillippa Gregory's best-selling novel The Other Boleyn Girl and documents about Anne Boleyn's fatal marriage and her daughter Elizabeth I's much-debated virginity. By contrasting depictions of marriage in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries and our own time, she shows that the early modern apprehension of marriage as an economy of scarcity continues to haunt the present in the form of a conceptual structure that can accommodate only one fully developed person. When two fractious individuals assert their conflicting wills, resolution can be achieved only when one spouse absorbs, subordinates, or eliminates the other.

In an era when marriage remains hotly contested, this book draws our attention to one of the histories that bears on the present, a history in which marriage promises both intimate connection and fierce conflict, both companionship and competition.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"[Frances E. Dolan] steeped herself in the history [of marriage], brought along a philosopher's antennae for blunt contradiction, and produced Marriage and Violence. Oh, how the quality of debate on same-sex marriage would improve if activists on the subject, candidates, and officials sat down to read it! Maybe it can be tossed out, like a bouquet, anywhere such players meet."—Chronicle Review

"A sophisticated, erudite discussion of the tensions between egalitarian and hierarchical principles in the Anglo-American ideal of marriage. Dolan provocatively argues that these tensions illustrate important continuities between seventeenth- and twenty-first-century marital models and have created recurring dilemmas in our theory and practice of marriage."—Stephanie Coontz, author of Marriage, a History: From Obedience to Intimacy, or How Love Conquered Marriage

"Why does marriage so often lead to violence? In her timely and important new book, Frances Dolan identifies the culprit: an 'economy of scarcity' that modern marriage inherits from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Powerfully argued and wonderfully well documented, Marriage and Violence provides a rare example of how historical scholarship can illuminate the present."—Richard Helgerson

"Marriage and Violence is an original, timely, and compelling study of the impact of early modern English discourses about marriage on contemporary understandings of marital violence. Arguing that when marriage explodes into violence we can see the past haunting the present, Dolan both presents a radically new history of marriage and provides us with some new conceptual tools for rethinking present marital ideologies."—Valerie Traub, University of Michigan

"In this brilliant analysis of the contradictory but persistent model of marriage that continues to haunt modern versions of the institution . . . Dolan supports her wide-ranging and provocative claims with scholarship that is impressively comprehensive and meticulously detailed. . . . A book of value not only to historians but also to twenty-first-century individuals interested in rethinking the institution of marriage and the gender dynamics within it."—Citation for Honorable Mention in the 2009 Society for the Study of Early Modern Women Book Award competition

"Frances Dolan's marvellously polemical book explores the conceptual underpinnings of marriage. . . . Her bracing attack on the structure of marriage is intended to provoke debate in order to find new ways of thinking about the marital relationship. It will surely do that and, in a world which sees the persistence of marital violence every day in its most brutal form, such questioning is to be applauded."—English Historical Review

"Well researched and based on a rigorous, prolonged comparison between sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Puritan advice literature and late twentieth-century American evangelical books of marital counsel. . . . The book is a splendid read."—Journal for the Study of Marriage and Spirituality

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780812220827
  • Publisher: University of Pennsylvania Press, Inc.
  • Publication date: 8/21/2009
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 248
  • Product dimensions: 5.90 (w) x 8.90 (h) x 0.70 (d)

Meet the Author

Frances E. Dolan is Professor of English at the University of California, Davis. Among her books are Dangerous Familiars: Representations of Domestic Crime in England, 1550-1700 and Whores of Babylon: Catholicism, Gender, and Seventeenth-Century Print Culture.

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Table of Contents

Chapter One. One Flesh, Two Heads: Debating the Biblical Blueprint for Marriage in the Seventeenth and Twentieth Centuries.
Chapter Two. Battered Women, Petty Traitors, and the Legacy of Coverture
Chapter Three. Fighting for the Breeches, Sharing the Rod: Spouses, Servants, and the Struggle for Equality
Chapter Four. How a Maiden Keeps Her Head: Anne Boleyn, Elizabeth I, and the Perils of Marriage


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