World Of Their Own Making / Edition 1

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Our whole society may be obsessed with "family values," but, as historian John Gillis points out in this entertaining and eye-opening narrative, most of our images of "home sweet home" are of very recent vintage. In fact, our most cherished family rituals (Christmas, birthdays, anniversaries, Valentine's Day, white weddings, reunions, Father's Day, and Mother's Day) didn't even exist until the Victorian era. A World of Their Own Making questions our idealized notion of "The Family," a mind-set in which myth and symbol still hold sway. As the families we live with become more fragile, the symbolic families we live by become more powerful. Yet it is only by accepting the notion that our rituals, myths, and images must be open to perpetual revision that we can satisfy our human needs and changing circumstances. Our families are worlds of our own making. By using the past to throw light on the present, Gillis empowers us to enjoy and accept responsibility for our own creations.
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Editorial Reviews

Philadelphia Inquirer

Synthesizes, in thoroughly readable prose, a tremendous amount of recent historical literature on Western family life from the Middle Ages to the present. This is no mean feat, and the fact that it undermines many loudly proclaimed political pieties is a delicious bonus.
— Warren Goldstein

Philadelphia Inquirer - Warren Goldstein
Synthesizes, in thoroughly readable prose, a tremendous amount of recent historical literature on Western family life from the Middle Ages to the present. This is no mean feat, and the fact that it undermines many loudly proclaimed political pieties is a delicious bonus.
Michael Kimmel
Weddings, birthdays, funerals, reunions, Mother's Day, even Christmas--we think of these ritual events as timeless traditions, our links to the distant past and the future. As such, they become invested with a syrupy sentimentalism, both sweet and sticky--part of the current nostalgia for family values. John Gillis's twin gifts as a historian and a writer are to reveal just how modern and how politically constructed these rituals are and to tell their story with the narrative grace and flair of a born storyteller. A book both learned and entertaining.
Jackson Lears
A tour de force of accessible scholarship, written with vigor and grace, filled with fascinating details and fresh insights...No one who cares about the past, present, or future of family life can afford to ignore this book.
Philadelphia Inquirer
Synthesizes, in thoroughly readable prose, a tremendous amount of recent historical literature on Western family life from the Middle Ages to the present. This is no mean feat, and the fact that it undermines many loudly proclaimed political pieties is a delicious bonus.
— Warren Goldstein
Philadelphia Enquirer
Synthesizes in thoroughly readable prose a tremendous amount of recent historical literature on Western family life...from the Middle Ages to the present.
Kirkus Reviews
A thoughtful debunking of the American family's mythic past. Gillis (History/Rutgers Univ.) quite ably proves that, contrary to popular opinion, there never has been a "Golden Age" of family values.

Each generation has reacted to its own crises, Gillis argues, by idealizing the family life of previous generations; today's innovation is the belief that every 1950s family was as impeccable as the Cleavers. In the '50s, parents turned for guidance to the Depression-era generation, who in their day had clung to the Victorians as exemplars. The greatest strength of the book is the author's systematic demonstration that the rituals we now attach to the elusive phrase "family values" are quite recent, most dating to the Victorian era. Before the 19th century, families did not need to create time to spend together. They had no choice but to sleep, work, and eat together in their small communal space. By the 1850s such forced mutuality had been displaced by a market economy, in which fathers left the home to work, mothers became the guardians of the hearth, and children were transformed from miniature adults into idealized angels. With these new roles came important supplementary rituals. Weddings, which had previously been simple events, had by the turn of the century become lavish family celebrations. The two-day weekend was created to promote the Victorian ideal of intentional family togetherness, as was the family meal, especially Sunday dinner. Holidays such as Christmas were transformed into family-centered and commercial enterprises. Gillis's work is well researched, the topic stimulating. Gillis writes with an easy, contemporary style, although his familiarity with the reader can be a bit jarring (he refers to early Europeans as "our ancestors," presuming that his audience is entirely Euro-American).

In all, though, a useful contribution to the history of the family, accessible to general readers.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780674961883
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press
  • Publication date: 10/15/1997
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 332
  • Sales rank: 1,401,010
  • Product dimensions: 0.69 (w) x 6.14 (h) x 9.21 (d)

Meet the Author

John R. Gillis is Professor of History at Rutgers University and the author of For Better, For Worse: British Marriages, 1600 to the Present.
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Table of Contents




Different Times, Different Places: Meanings of Family and Home Before the Modern Age

Myths of Family Past

At Home with Families of Strangers

Life and Death in a Small Parenthesis

Enchanting Families: The Victorian Origins of Modern Family Cultures

A World of Their Own Making

Making Time(s) for Family

No Place Like Home

Mythic Figures in the Suburban Landscape

The Perfect Couple

Mothers Giving Birth to Motherhood

Bringing Up Fathers: Strangers in Our Midst

Haunting the Dead

New Times and New Places: Myths and Rituals for a Global Era

Conclusion: Remaking Our Worlds



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Customer Reviews

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 18, 2004

    Should be Required Reading for Every Politician and Commentator in the Country!

    Born out of the tragedy of his son's death, this historical tour-de-force distills decades of research on the family into one, completely readable and moving work. By examining the way that family structures have changed over time to fit present day needs, Gillis frees us from the shackles of conservative commentators who wish to give us a one-size-fits-all family which they claim is 'natural' and transhistorical. With careful scholarship and elegant writing, Gillis illustrates the ways in which things that we have come to think of as traditional are in fact or quite recent origin. By understanding this fact, we can see that rather than try to cram myriad families into one generic and ill-fitting mold, we would be better off accepting famillies as they are and working to understand how they serve (or don't serve) the needs of the people in them.

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