Marriage, A History (Magill's Literary Annual 2006)
In her thorough and lucidly written book, Stephanie Coontz examines the institution of marriage across the globe and throughout history. Marriage, a History is not only a major piece of scholarship but also a work that provides a crucial understanding of the central institution in modern culture.
Coontz begins by demonstrating that the idea of marrying for love is a construct peculiar to the last two centuries. She argues that for most of human history, the idea that anyone should choose a marital partner based on something as irrational as love was inconceivable. For example, in ancient China, as elsewhere, strong love between husband and wife was considered a threat to the established social order. Some Greek and Roman philosophers believed that a man who loved his wife with excessive ardor was an adulterer. Even today, in places such as Kenya marriage is considered too important to be entered into because of love.
Moreover, sexual fidelity was not always held in high regard. Coontz cites an anthropological study of 109 past societies in which only 48 forbade extramarital sex to both husbands and wives. Love was a rare element in the history of marriage, and even today the definition and function of marriage are not entirely fixed. One legally accepted, though challenged, definition describes marriage as an arrangement in which a man and a woman live together, engage in sexual activity, and cooperate economically. Coontz lists other...
(The entire section is 1980 words.)
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