September 27, 2011
An in-depth look at marriage that holds a little known fascinating history.
True or false? About 50% of marriages end in divorce. Although uncommon to popular belief, this is actually false, as both Americans and Canadians have a 30 percent chance of divorce when marrying for the first time. With same sex marriage debates and Hollywood starlets changing spouses as much as they change outfits, critics have a lot to say about the lack of sanctity in today’s marriage. However, Canadian author Elizabeth Abbott gives a thorough history of what at times has been more of a death sentence rather than a “holy” mutual joining of two people. And her book, A History of Marriage, takes a fascinating look at many other myths of the little known history of something so simple and taken for granted by many.
A History of Marriage is much more than the title suggests; it becomes a work of politics, love, feminism, sorrow, childhood, abortion, racism and humor. It is an eye-opening book that has something for anyone, regardless of their interest in the marriage debate. Abbott’s examinations begin mainly at the 1500’s to the state of marriage in North American and Europe. It sheds light on childhood brides, arranged marriages, and other shocking history. And the most alarming parts are personal stories from other time periods, telling of the horrors of abuse, when the abused was looked down on and ignored if attempting a divorce.
Abbott hardly lets marriage seem as the joint partnership of love that it is considered today. In a story of one of the many childhood brides in history, Rassundari Devi describes her experience that was more common than many would think. She says that her marriage was like, “The sacrificial goat being dragged to the altar, the same hopeless situation, the same agonized screams.” Stories of lost love and marriage due to family ties were the most upsetting and surprisingly common. Abbott also writes of many prominent figures of their times and says little of the positivity of past marriages, focusing mainly on the worst.
Abbott’s book is well written and researched, using facts throughout to back up all of her statements. It does not miss any aspect that has anything to do with marriage. In fact, one of the few flaws of the book may be including too much information that is not beneficial to the whole of the story. A few too many pages are spent describing houses that were used for marital privacy and wedding dresses. But when Abbott digs deeper into marriage, is when the real fascinating gems of information become clear.
One of the more interesting stories was of author Jane Austen’s experiences in marriage. After experiencing the death of her one love, she is frequently reminded of being a burden on her family because of her lack of marriage and she is proposed to by a man she does not love. When most of the story features women shunned for lacking in marriage and the soulless union that it sometime was, Austen was one of the few ahead of her time. Austen tells a niece what many would have been horrified to hear, “Anything is to be preferred or endured rather than marrying a man without affection.” Good advice from Abbott’s thorough and interesting book.