The roots of Western ideas about getting hitched, from early humans up to Martin Luther.
That’s right, Martin Luther, who used sermons on the “godliness” of marriage as an opportunity to stick yet another finger in the Pope’s eye and in 1525 gave up a lifetime of celibacy to get married himself. Squire (For Better or for Worse: A Candid Chronicle of Five Couples Adjusting to Parenthood, 1993, etc.) halts her history of marriage there, contending that “as the Protestant influence spreads across Europe…so does its marital vision, which is essentially Luther’s.” Well, maybe, but surely the last 500 years of marital theories could stand a bit more scrutiny. For the millennia she does cover, Squire pores over classical and medieval diaries, treatises on marriage and religious tracts on why women are inferior, and her narrative moves at a brisk pace. She argues that marriage was basically designed to protect fragile male egos so they could retain the sense of power they needed to project in society. It had no such positive aspects for women, who were constantly accused either of being insatiably intent on sexual variety or of being needling shrews; marriage was an instrument to control them. Despite the subtitle, readers with any knowledge of the subject will find little new information or “contrarian” analysis here; the less well-informed will probably find their worst suspicions confirmed. Squire detracts from her argument with a jarringly jocular tone—giving historical figures silly nicknames, for example. Cutting off the story in 1546 (the year of Luther’s death) makes her claim to be revealing something about modern marriage nothing short of ridiculous.
Lively and a pleasure to read, but falls well short of what it promises.