Husbands, Wives and Lovers

Marriage and Its Discontents in Nineteenth-Century France

Patricia Mainardi

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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.

Patricia Mainardi is professor of art history and executive officer (chair) of the doctoral program in art history at the Graduate Center, The City University of New York.

“Mainardi’s investigation affects not only our interpretation of much of the visual culture of 19th-century France, but requires too that we rethink the journalism, the literature, the poetry, and the theater—indeed all aspects of elite and popular culture of the period.”—Abigail Solomon-Godeau, University of California, Santa Barbara

"With theoretical sophistication, interpretive audacity, and a deft use of evidence, Mainardi has written a book that no historian of nineteenth-century French culture should miss and any scholar interested in the visual arts as historically situated cultural productions will find methodologically exciting."—Journal of Modern History


ISBN: 9780300101041
Publication Date: October 11, 2003
324 pages, 6 3/4 x 9 5/8
90 b/w illus.
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