FT– Isabel Berwick reviews three new books on Marriage: I do … don’t I?

[Maureen] Waller’s wonderfully lively book brings to life the story of English marriage through accounts of mainly upper-class matches made for money or social advancement. Many of the wives Waller writes about were extremely spirited but are left powerless. Husbands could do whatever they wanted with and to their wives, and, until the late 18th century, there were private madhouses “where men could lock up their wives, no questions asked”. For the middle and lower classes, marriage was a way to respectability, guilt-free sex, legitimised children and a means to avoid poverty ”“ an unmarried woman was an unwanted drain on family resources.

While modern marriage offers all parties a lot more liberation, the sheer weight of its historical baggage is almost too much to contemplate, such is its past injustice to women. Our easily dissolved and diverse models of coupledom may avoid these negatives but they raise another question ”“ why do so many stay together? It all comes back, as Gilbert and Figes conclude, to intimacy. Perhaps this is the new buzzword for what promises to be a less inflated, less dreamy decade.

Intimacy is a shared script, the secret pillow talk, and the quotidian routines of bringing up children and holding down jobs. It may start with romantic love but, with luck and hard work, grows to have a firmer foundation than the passing fancies of romance. As Figes says, “Lasting intimacy is good for our health and sense of wellbeing, and investing in that relationship could be the best insurance policy of our lives.” Intimacy may even be another word for maturity in a marriage. We marry because we need and hope to grow old together.

Read it all.


Posted in * Culture-Watch, * International News & Commentary, England / UK, History, Marriage & Family