Incest and Influence: The Private Life of Bourgeois England

John Pemble writes:

Kuper detects the hard-headed strategies of agglomeration and consolidation common to all the bourgeoisies of 19th-century Europe. He argues that the British ruling class favoured intermarriage because it had learned the value of family partnerships from its business experience in the days before limited liability and widespread share ownership. The ruling-class regime undoubtedly stacked the odds against exogamy. Its agenda was the right man in the right place – and the woman in the home. Consequently the public sphere of education, work and organised recreation was a man’s world, where premarital (like extramarital) encounters with the opposite sex were limited to prostitutes and barmaids. The domestic sphere, meanwhile, was sacred to the women. For the adolescent male, confined for most of the year to public school or university, home meant bevies of sisters, cousins and aunts, and furtive fantasy about slippers, stockings, camisoles and stays. Since it wasn’t unusual to have 20 or more cousins of the opposite sex, they came readily to mind when the time came for marriage.

(LRB 25 February 2010)

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