THE SUBVERSIVE FAMILY: An Alternative History of Love and Marriage by Ferdinand Mount

THE SUBVERSIVE FAMILY: An Alternative History of Love and Marriage

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KIRKUS REVIEW

From TLS editor Mount (The Selkirk Strip, 1988, etc.): a controversial history of love and marriage in Europe that reveals how threatening private relationships have been to both church and state--and how those institutions have unsuccessfully attempted to suppress private relationships by perpetuating myths about how modern or unstable or unnatural such relationships are. The family, Mount contends, is the enemy of hierarchies and revolutionaries--including, he says, figures such as Plato, Jesus, Marx, Lenin, Mao, and Hitler. According to Mount, all of these men attempted to subvert the family by setting up surrogates such as communes, kibbutzim, monasteries, or convents--and then, defeated by the powerful human urge to pair up, by establishing strict if unenforceable rules to govern private life. Such antinuclear-family movements--assisted, Mount claims, by artists, whose creativity is threatened by domestic life--created such myths as the ""indifferent mother,"" which posits that maternal affection, like the nuclear family, divorce, and romantic love itself, is a modem, unsuccessful invention as well as a poor substitute for the extended family and arranged marriages. Mount draws on evidence from social scientists, Chaucer, Jane Austen, Henry VIII, and ""pub"" talk to offer a realist's assessment of ""popular"" marriage, showing that private coupling, however fallible--baaed as it is on affection and independence--is how people always choose to live when they have a choice. Mount's focus is exclusively European here, but his study is in the iconoclastic spirit of Stephanie Coontz's The Way We Never Were (p. 1031), which decodes and destroys American myths of domesticity. Coinciding with an election year that's focused on these myths, Mount's argument acquires a particularly ironic twist--for one way demagogues control the family, he shows, is to claim they are in favor of it.

Pub Date: Dec. 14th, 1992
Page count: 300pp
Publisher: Free Press/Macmillan