Pub Date2003
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Husbands, Wives, & Lovers: Marriage and its Discontents in 19th Century Europe

Patricia Mainardi
Yale University Press

In this lively, interdisciplinary exploration of the cultural and social history of early nineteenth-century France, art historian Patricia Mainardi focuses on what was considered a major social problem of the time—adultery. In a period when expectations about marriage were changing, the problems of husbands, wives, and lovers became a major theme in theater, literature, and the visual arts. The author demonstrates that this intense interest was historically grounded in the post-Revolutionary collision between the new concept of the individual’s right to happiness and the traditional prerogatives of family and state.

The book examines the questions that permeated French culture and society: Is duty or happiness more important? Are arranged marriages doomed to be empty of love and poisoned by adultery? Should adulterous wives and their lovers be punished while husbands may commit adultery with impunity? Out of such legal, social, and cultural debates ultimately emerged modern bourgeois family values, Mainardi argues. And she illuminates how art, in all its varieties, both influences and is influenced by social change.