THE STORY OF A MARRIAGE by Bronislaw Malinowski


Vol. I & Vol. II, The Letters of Bronislaw Malinowski and Elsie Masson
Email this review


 An intensely personal chronicle of the courtship and married life of an influential figure in the development of anthropological fieldwork. Written between 1916 and 1935, these letters allow readers to follow the development of a highly improbable romance. Elsie Masson was a young Australian nurse from a good family, Bronislaw Malinowski an ``enemy alien'' (Polish) six year older. Despite the objection of family members and friends, as well as long separations due to Malinowski's fieldwork, their relationship grew into a strong commitment, then marriage. The correspondence, while not exactly passionate, is set against epic backdrops and radiates a tenderness and intense longing that seem impossible in this age of cellular phones and commuter flights. The letters relating directly to anthropological fieldwork serve to dispel romantic notions; Malinowski writes frankly of his boredom, isolation, despair, and loathing for many of his sources. In a particularly honest moment, he expresses bitter annoyance that the wife of an informant has died of tuberculosis, which means he will be unable to question the man about spells during the mourning period. These candid descriptions of his work humanize the revered founder of modern ethnographic fieldwork. The correspondence also reminds us of the striking changes in daily life that have occurred since the early 1900s: Elsie takes strychnine for medicinal purposes and arsenic tonic to gain weight; Bronislaw has all of his teeth removed to prevent a recurrent throat infection; the suffragette movement is a pressing concern. Like a marvelously overstuffed attic filled with interesting relics of an age gone by, the book is much more suited to browsing than end-to-end reading. Unexpected surprises and bits of insight abound throughout. Essential reading for romantics, anthropologists, and history buffs.

Pub Date: April 12th, 1995
ISBN: 0-415-11758-5
Publisher: Routledge
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15th, 1995