Defining America through Marriage


At Marginalia, a channel of the Los Angeles Review of Books, Darryl W. Stephens reviews a new history of 19th century marriage by Leslie Harris. Harris’s book documents the ways public rhetoric and legal proceedings reshaped marriage into a new institution to define early American culture:

[Harris] has offered concrete illustrations of how rhetoric about marriage bolsters an American mythology in which civilization triumphs over barbarians and moral virtue wins over unrestrained sin. Enforced through the rule of law and social conformity, the norms of acceptable marriage impose a natural order and reason embodying American ideals.

Michelle Vider is a writer based in Philadelphia. Her work has appeared/is forthcoming in The Toast, Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet, Atlas and Alice, Baldhip Magazine, and others. Find her at or @meanchelled. More from this author →