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Marital Cruelty in Antebellum America

Conflicting Worlds: New Dimensions of the American Civil War
Narrated by: Sally Martin
Length: 6 hrs and 43 mins
Categories: History, American
4 out of 5 stars (5 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

In Marital Cruelty in Antebellum America, Robin C. Sager probes the struggles of aggrieved spouses shedding light on the nature of marriage and violence in the United States in the decades prior to the Civil War. Analyzing over 1,500 divorce records that reveal intimate details of marriages in conflict in Virginia, Texas, and Wisconsin from 1840-1860, Sager offers a rare glimpse into the private lives of ordinary Americans shaken by accusations of cruelty. 

At a time when the standard for an ideal marriage held that both partners adequately perform their respective duties, hostility often arose from ongoing domestic struggles for power. Despite a rise in the then novel expectation of marriage as a companionate relationship, and even in the face of liberalized divorce grounds, marital conflicts often focused on violations of duty, not lack of love. Sager describes how, in this environment, cruelty was understood as a failure to fulfill expectations and as a weapon to brutally enforce more traditional interpretations of marital duty. 

Sager's findings also challenge historical literature's assumptions about the regional influences on violence, showing that married southerners were no more or less violent than their midwestern counterparts. Her work reveals how definitions and perceptions of cruelty varied according to the gender of victim and perpetrator. Correcting historical mischaracterizations of women's violence as trivial, rare, or defensive, Sager finds antebellum wives both capable and willing to commit a wide variety of cruelties within their marriages. Her research provides details about the reality of nineteenth-century conjugal unions, including the deep unhappiness buried within them.

The book is published by Louisiana State University Press.

©2016 Louisiana State University Press (P)2019 Redwood Audiobooks

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Educational and enjoyable!

As always, I have to state that this book was given to me for free in exchange for a review.
I always like to state that this does not impact my review or my opinion of the book. My reviews are honest and my own opinion of the story, performance, and overall thoughts on the book.

In Marital Cruelty in Antebellum America, Robin C. Sager examines antebellum conceptions of marriage and violence through divorce cases in Virginia, Texas, and Wisconsin. Her work illustrates how gender expectations and location impacted the understanding of what was considered cruel in marriage between 1840 and 1860. Rather than reaffirming the antebellum South was more violent, Sager argues that southern states with established gender expectations set greater limitations on the level of violence considered permissible in marriages compared with areas in the process of settlement.

To prove her argument, Sager provides a qualitative analysis of the testimony from husbands, wives, and community members. Four of the chapters examine a particular form of cruelty, including intemperance and verbal, physical, and sexual abuse. Spouses turned to the courts expecting legal help, but plaintiffs needed to prove a decreased quality of life in order to be successful. Witnesses, then, proved indispensable and are the focus of the last chapter. Neighbors upheld the privacy of family to a degree during the period, but when troubled marriages spilled into the public domain or appeared life-threatening, any right to privacy was forfeited. Ultimately, in each state, a common understanding of gender expectations and boundaries in marriage emerged among husbands, wives, and the wider community.

The strength of Sager's work lies in the comparison of marital conflict in an established southern state with two states plagued by "frontier discord" (p. 8). Sager argues that Virginia's social stability, honor code, and need to appear less violent in the wake of increasing criticisms of slavery led to stricter restrictions on marital cruelty. At the opposite end of the spectrum, spouses in Wisconsin more frequently used lethal weapons such as axes, which Sager asserts was due to Wisconsin's fluid gender expectations and an increased level of violence as the state developed. From these findings, she carefully draws larger generalizations about the regions, but on occasion, using one state as indicative of an entire geographic region obscures significant cultural and legal variations.

Sager also excels in analyzing the dynamics of marital conflict and in challenging previous scholars on the role of women in marital violence as well as on the rise of companionate marriages.

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Interesting But Dry

I listened to this book over the course of one very long layover and found it an interesting insight into the day to day lives and dysfunction of couples in Texas, Wisconsin, and Virginia in the 1840s and 1850s. There was lots of information and details. Unfortunately, it was all VERY, VERY dry and academic. The narrator was good but there wasn't much she could do to make this dry book faster or more exciting. But, if someone is interested in antebellum divorce courts, this is the book for you.

I was given a free copy of this book at my own request in return for a fair review.

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Enjoyable Listen On An Uncomfortable Subject

This is a scholastic work that doesn't listen like one. Through a mixture of fact and anecdote, Robin Sager has created an interesting historical look into the state of marriages -- particularly bad marriages -- prior to the American Civil War. What sounded like a rather dry topic ended up being an interesting listen. Hearing the real life examples of marital cruelty made this book come alive.

I was not overly fond of Sally Martin's narration. If it had been longer than 6:43 I don't know if I could have handled it; she was a little too flat and expressionless for my taste.

All-in-all, a surprisingly enjoyable listen.

This book was given to me for free at my request and I provided this review voluntarily.

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DIVORCE

Marital Cruelty in Antebellum America
: Robin C. Sager

This is an interesting glimps into Marital Cruelty in Virginia, Texas, and Wisconsin from 1840--1860. The listener gets to hear how divorce charges changed and evolved over time. A nice selection of case studies.



The narration was well done by Sally Martin.




Please include the following in your review: "I was provided this audiobook at no charge by the narrator in exchange for an unbiased review via Audiobook Boom."