THE FAMILY, SEX AND MARRIAGE: In England 1500-1800 by Lawrence Stone

THE FAMILY, SEX AND MARRIAGE: In England 1500-1800

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KIRKUS REVIEW

The most critical change in world view and values ""possibly in the last thousand years of Western history"" is the shift from ""distance, deference and patriarchy"" to what Stone (best known for work in early modern English history) calls ""Affective Individualism."" In this massive, aptly illustrated book, he explains and analyzes the change, taking as example the development of the modern family. The 16th-century ""Open Lineage Family""--a cool economic and political calculation for the good of kin, community, and the male line--is replaced by the ""Restricted Patriarchal Nuclear Family"" (1550-1700), under pressure of an authoritarian state, patriarchal protestant theology, and Reformation upheaval to become a sterner agent of social control. In ""the great age of the whip"" children are ""broken"" for the good of their souls, wives for the pleasure of their husbands. Counter-trends toward greater freedom and equality (the recognition that coercion has limits) yield the ""Closed Domesticated Nuclear Family"" (1640-1800), increasingly egalitarian and affectionate, increasingly withdrawn from interests of kin and community. Husband, wife, and kids like one another better and the world less. None of these changes is linear, straightforward, or simple. The family types overlap in time; the variations occur in different social classes at different rates or for different reasons--or not at all. Relentlessly, Stone tackles his topic from six points of view: biological, sociological, political, economic, psychological, sexual. And he expands his view to take in comparative examples from the Continent, the New World, and the 19th and 20th centuries. Since he alternates theory and example, the book teems with vivid life sketches and curious facts. Here; are the famous--Pepys defecating in the fireplace, Wollstonecraft complaining of ""odious"" job prospects for spinsters--and the forgotten: husbands selling their wives for sixpence at cattlemarket, little girls crushed by cages supposed to shape their figures, babies tightly swaddled and hung on a peg. Stone's erudition is dazzling, his prose is lucid, vigorous, witty. He is not altogether free of foolishness (male midwives are naturally superior to ""ignorant"" females because they have stronger hands), but where else can you learn about the impact on Western weltanschauung of the corridor and the dumb waiter?

Pub Date: Oct. 26th, 1977
Publisher: Harper & Row