Marriage in the 19th Century

In my last several posts, I’ve discussed hope, faith, Love and Forgiveness.  Today I thought that I’d wrap the whole series (as it turned out to be) with a little bit of application that comes from a book that I read recently that dealt with sex and marriage in the Civil War.  The book is an academic volume, not an erotic tale, just for the record!

In the last chapter, by far the most interesting of all, a group of historians and sociologist write about research that they did on male-female relationships in the 19th Century that was based upon over 20,000 letters that survive, often in whole bundles covering many years, that were written between men at the front and their mothers, wives, sisters and sweethearts back home.  The first thing the scholars mentioned after their research was surprise at the level of mutual respect between men and women that was exhibited in these letters.  I was surprised that they were surprised…

Next, they commented on the fact that it did not appear that men and women were married for the same reasons or with the same expectations that they are today.  Love for the most part was not a reason for marriage!  If it came along later, fine.  When looking for mates, men and women of the mid-nineteenth century were looking for a partner with whom they could work as a team to make a life and family.  Each was expected to do their part, and society would tend to enforce this, and they would become a team.  Us against the world, so to speak.

The final thing that the research revealed was that in most cases, a deep, mutual love was the result. In the final analysis, the researchers theorized that their expectations of finding a partner in life rather than a love for life was the difference between the 19th Century couples and the modern-day, for when life became hard they didn’t rely on emotion to stay together but instead their reliance was upon their partnership; their teamwork.

From a Biblical perspective, I would suggest that what these researchers discovered was agape the decision to love others that Jesus referred to when He commanded that we love our neighbor as ourselves.  A commitment, a repositioning of priorities from that of putting oneself first to putting the interests of the other first, with the ultimate result being that both parties found eros or romantic love somewhere in the process.

I wonder just how many men and women grieve today because our society has lost this set of expectations and replaced them with expectations that rely so heavily on a feeling.

For further reading see The Story the Soldiers Wouldn’t Tell: Sex in the Civil War, by Thomas P. Lowry, M.D.

About Don Merritt

A long time teacher and writer, Don hopes to share his varied life's experiences in a different way with a Christian perspective.
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