Academic journal article British Journal of Canadian Studies

The Importance of Being Monogamous: Marriage and Nation Building in Western Canada to 1915

Academic journal article British Journal of Canadian Studies

The Importance of Being Monogamous: Marriage and Nation Building in Western Canada to 1915

Article excerpt

Sarah Carter, The Importance of Being Monogamous: Marriage and Nation Building in Western Canada to 1915 (Edmonton: University of Alberta Press, and Athabasca: Athabasca University Press, 2007), 383pp. Paper. $34.95. ISBN 0-88864-490-6.

In The Importance of Being Monogamous, Sarah Carter explores the social institution of marriage in Western Canada in the nineteenth century. She places particular emphasis on the nature of aboriginal marriage customs in this period and the government's attempts to impose a more mainstream Christian monogamous model of marriage upon native communities. Carter also highlights that prior to the nineteenth century, the tradition of Christian monogamy itself was far from common practice. Her study therefore compliments and extends the work of scholars such as Nancy Cott and Ann Laura Stoler, who argue that colonialism was 'not only about the importation of middle-class sensibilities, but about the making of them' (p. 64).

Although the majority of the study focuses on aboriginal customs and governmental policies to suppress them, in the early chapters Carter painstakingly outlines the larger social context of marriage and divorce in the nineteenth century, which many not interested in aboriginal history and politics may still find highly informative. She highlights the growing societal aversion to divorce as a way to distance the country from the USA, as well as the threat of polygamy and bigamy that new immigrant groups such as the Mormons and the Doukhobors brought to Canada. The attention of the book then turns to aboriginal Canadians and how their flexible practices of marriage and divorce, and the common occurrences of polygamy, were actively suppressed and prohibited. There is a strong emphasis on Western Canada in the work due to the region's large aboriginal population in the period, and while this allows the study to remain localised and focused - especially when referring to aboriginal communities - it perhaps limits the study's larger appeal to readers. …

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