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A History of the Wife Paperback – February 5, 2002
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The cultural historian who gave us A History of the Breast takes stock of the wife from her conception by the Hebrews, Greeks, and Romans to her 20th-century manifestation as the New Woman. Beginning with the charter myth for the Judeo-Christian wife (Adam and Eve), Marilyn Yalom explains the religious, legal, and social practices of ancient civilizations that provided the template for the idea of wife as property of and subservient to her husband, with a role limited to mother and housekeeper. What she discovers is that the recent transformation of wifehood from sexless stay-at-home dependent to sexy supermom is actually the distillation of changes that have been going on for a long time, say a couple of thousand years. In fact, what makes Yalom's passage through time so fascinating is the steady rise and fall and rise again of the status of the wife and her struggle for greater autonomy. There are plenty of surprises: the first reciprocal marriages were actually had in Roman times; divorce became popular around the same time that monogamy was instituted; and while it's true that Puritans punished adultery harshly, it was they who brought the concepts of mutual love and lovemaking (other than for procreation) to America. The growing tension between women's impulses towards emancipation and the reaction against it was a quickly repeating theme in the 20th century, best exemplified by a WWII ad of a working woman pledging to "guard every bit of Beauty that he cherishes in me."
The wives in this revelatory genealogy resonate with the aid of illuminating stories and the lively voices found in letters and diaries. Through these, Yalom lithely demonstrates that the fantasy of the selfless devoted wife has always had an ineluctable twin, the archetypal powerful woman--and vice versa. While college women in the 1970s may have declared that "the idea that a woman's place is in the home is nonsense," Yalom points out that society still acts like every breadwinner has a stay-at-home wife, and the anxieties that are raised in advice columns today are not that different from those a hundred years ago. Greater independence and equality have not, as feared, led to the abandonment of the marital institution, nor many of the issues that haunt it. --Lesley Reed --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From Publishers Weekly
The voices of ordinary women speak volumes in this sweeping history of women and marriage in the Western world. As with her well-received A History of the Breast, Yalom, a scholar at Stanford's Institute for Women and Gender, moves easily among several fieldsAfeminist history, religion and myth, anthropology, personal narratives, literature, pop culture and sociologyAto trace the changing role of wives from ancient times to the present. The general direction of changeAfrom subordinate toward more egalitarian rolesAcomes as no surprise. What may be unexpected, however, is Yalom's evidence that, while generally conforming to cultural norms, individual marriages throughout history have been more complex than law and tradition may have dictated. Barren wives were sometimes favored over fertile ones, arranged marriages sometimes encompassed deep love and wives' personal "power" could vary considerably. Nevertheless, marriages were hardly egalitarian, even after late-18th-century political ideals proclaimed women to be "co-creators of... new republican societies" in America and Europe. Wives had little legal autonomy; they could not control their own money or even have access to their children in the event of separation or divorce, until equal rights began to be won during the 20th century. Yalom discusses the push for birth control rights, the impact of the depression and World War II and today's two-spouse-income economy and 50% divorce rate. She excels in presenting personal perspectives, including those of working-class wives, immigrants, African-Americans and lesbians. Yet she is less successful in examining wider societal effects, including the impact of high divorce rates. "To be a wife today when there are few prescriptions or proscriptions is truly a creative endeavor," she concludes; true enough, but it's an insufficient explanation for how egalitarian marriages might actually work. (Feb.) Forecast: Stunning cover art, a topical subject and the title's echo of Yalom's previous book should attract many readers in addition to this book's obvious audience of women's studies majors. If Oprah did history, this might be her kind of book.
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Top customer reviews
This book explores what typically was an arranged marriage for family prestige and gain, until it became a love match. Wives roles were more than simply taking care of the house and children through out time. Wives often ran a husbands business, and was even a requirement for some careers.
While this book may have been written from a feminist point of view, I believe this book can be read by all who want to know about the role of a wife from a historical standpoint. Its a wonderful thought provoking read that will leave you thankful you live in the modern age.
I had hoped for a more global perspective on the role of the wife, but I realize that such a project would be fairly cumbersome for a popular publication. Yalom's focus is the direct history that leads to the contemporary American wife,and she builds a history towards that end. I occasionally found it hard to remain objective in the face of biased prose, but overall I found A History of the Wife to be very interesting.