Marriage, a History: From Obedience to Intimacy or How Love Conquered Marriage

By Patten, Russ | Journal of Marriage and Family, December 2005 | Go to article overview

Marriage, a History: From Obedience to Intimacy or How Love Conquered Marriage


Patten, Russ, Journal of Marriage and Family


Marriage, a History: From Obedience to Intimacy or How Love Conquered Marriage. Stephanie Coontz. New York: Viking. 2005. 432 pp. ISBN 0-670-03407-X. $25.95 (hardback).

What was the institution of marriage historically? What changes has it undergone? Where is it headed? In her book Marriage, a History, Stephanie Coontz examines the motivations for marriage historically, across cultures and class, and concludes that social, economic, and political forces were the motivating forces in marriage up until the late 1700s in Western Europe. Here lies the origin of the "love match" wherein men and women freely choose marital partners as a private relationship between two individuals. As marriage moves on through the 1800s and up to our current era, Coontz tracks the frequent changes in marriage based on love, as it battles with many socioeconomic forces and political upheavals. This book is a fantastic look at the history of marriage and challenges the reader to examine marriage not in the context of a static institution but with origins in motivations other than love. Only in the recent history of humanity do we find marriage motivated by love. Most recently, we find the very definition of marriage in question, as well as the future of cohabitation within the modern paradigm.

Coontz begins this journey by challenging the very notion that love historically has been a precursor to marriage. Marriage is also examined historically from a cross-cultural perspective. The question of early human motivations to invent marriage is rich and conjures many vivid images. The next section looks at marriage from the time of ancient world dynasties up to the mid 1700s. Within this scope, Coontz explores the strong influences of political institutions on marriage, with marriage serving as an agent for personal and family survival within a social context. The next major contribution of the book begins in the late 1700s in Western Europe and examines marriage, over time, up to 1950s American culture. Here, Coontz focuses on the origins of marriage, based on love as its motivational factor, and the many social pressures created and adapted to through this new paradigm. …

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