Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Marriage Before the Romance Novel

Jan Steen, "The Merry Family"

The romantic comedy or "chick flick" is a wildly popular genre of film. Women love the conflict and tension leading up to the happy ending of wedding bells.  But the romantic, emotional exuberance of the modern ideal belies much of the history of traditional marriage. Indeed, the two conceptions of marriage are so different as to make you stop and think about whether they are the same institution at all.

In modern societies the purpose of marriage is romantic love, intimacy, and individual fulfillment. In fact, 70 percent of divorcing couples in this study give lack of commitment (mostly due to an absence of romantic love or a feeling of having drifted away emotionally) as the reason for their divorce.  

But the purpose of marriage in ancient societies was radically different.  Up until the last hundred years or so, people married for these reasons:
  • to provide legitimate children to perpetuate family property. 
  • to maintain influence in the community.
  • to create alliances.
  • to consolidate property .
  • to care for aging relatives.  
Marriage in pre-modern times was about surviving and thriving in a hostile world of scarcity.
Husbands and wives for much of history have had low expectations for emotional fulfillment in marriage.  The idea was that mutual respect and affection were achieved as each spouse fulfilled his or her part of the union and built a family together. Individuals in traditional societies believed that a happy marriage could be learned after securing the foundation and means of family life:  property, family connections, religion, children.

Before modern, big government and bureaucracies, families and households were a form of subsistence. There could be no survival or even existence without the family and the extended clan of relatives. And everyone had a contribution to make according to their sex.  The husband and/or his family provided a house, property, and name, and the wife and her family would bring the dowry, provide children and housekeeping.

Frederick George Cotman,"One of the Family"

Finally, and not least importantly, families before modernity were a form of immortality as descendants were expected to bear children to carry on the family line.  Then those children were obligated to bury, remember and honor their parents and ancestors, perpetuate their memories and care for their burial sites.  The family was identity and so these memorials were significant to an individual’s purpose and meaning.  Without knowing who and where they came from, the traditional folk hadn't a clue what life was about.
Family burial plots in an Austrian church yard
A body is first buried in a temporary family grave, then after some years the skeletal remains are removed and placed in an ossuary. 

Thanks for stopping by.  Next time we'll look at the biblical roots of marriage.

Be blessed and be a blessing!

~Amy Laurie


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Loving your husband: Fulfill his sexual desires.

That they may teach the younger women to be sober, to love their husbands, to love their children. - Titus 2: 4 (KJV) The closer a woman ge...

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