Academic journal article Journal of Comparative Family Studies

On Marriage

Academic journal article Journal of Comparative Family Studies

On Marriage

Article excerpt

von HIPPEL, Theodor Gottlieb, ON MARRIAGE (Bicentennial Edition) Translated and edited with an introduction by Timothy F. Sellner, Detroit, Michigan: Wayne State University Press, 1994, 323 pp., $29.95 hardcover.

Reviewed By: BEATRICE GOTTLIEB*

The translator of this work is a German and Russian scholar at Wake Forest University who is convinced that Hippel was an important thinker and that this book, which went through four editions in the eighteenth century, deserves serious attention today.

I have been wrestling with this claim. Having plodded through On Marriage, I find it hard to imagine why anyone would want to read it, except as a curiosity. And to satisfy one's curiosity one would have to endure excruciating boredom. Professor Sellner believes that Hippel (who published the work anonymously) had original insights into the institution of marriage and that he expressed his ideas with wit and charm. Forget about wit and charm. I am willing to believe they are as absent from the original as they are from this translation. I am amazed at the claim of originality. The one value of this book, I would think, is that it is a tissue of now-familiar ideas of the eighteenth-century Enlightenment, which appear here at their most banal. For us in the social sciences this constitutes whatever curiosity value it has. We can learn nothing from it about marriage in the eighteenth century or any other time. Its favourable reception in its own day may have been due to its very banality, which declaws any sharpness these progressive ideas ever had.

Hippel's main theme is praise of Nature and what is natural. In this he speaks like a typical follower of the Enlightenment. He praises natural, "pure" sexuality. Marriage is good because it is natural, he says. It should be entered into at an early age, and its true aim is the companionship of two good people. Second marriages are to him an abomination; almost an entire chapter is devoted to the idea that wives should remain loyal to their dead husbands. …

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