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Fiction as social fantasy: Europe's domestic crisis of 1879-1914.

In the years 1879-1914 European fiction took a searching look at entrenched social institutions, scrutinizing the family in particular with a premium on boldness. Indeed, the bolder its approach, the broader and stronger did its appeal tend to be. At first the aim was to turn up problems that might be solved or evils that might be remedied. But a depressive, defeatist, even destructive mood fast carried the day. By the 1890s any ambitious fiction that probed domestic life, as most fiction then did, was apt to present it as a pernicious mistake, and the more pernicious the deeper the probing had gone.

This fictional assault on the family, along with marriage as the familial breeding ground, was only rarely explicit, as when a Tolstoi or a Shaw fell to pamphle-teering within a novel or a play. Nor were authors' own statements of purpose in prefaces or elsewhere authoritative, for even a work of creative genius may convey a message other than its author intended. To tease arguments out of fiction can be tricky, but such a massive fictional trend as this antifamilial one is unmistakable. At the same time, the charges leveled at the family within that trend do not add up to a coherent indictment. Rather, they are like so many swipes taken at it from various standpoints and different angles. Those swipes scored no quick knockout, but they did eventually deflate the received familial ideal.

Europeans targeted the family in literary fantasy just when, in those decades before the First World War, it was thriving among them in public esteem and popular sentiment as perhaps never before. Even so, that onslaught against it was not fiction only; it was the down side of Europeans' restructuring of the family through their widespread adoption of birth control within marriage. This collective demographic doing by Europeans, and especially their innermost feelings about it, are my subject. Both show through Europe's fictional case against the family when that case is seen as a whole and seen as social fantasy. So my argument starts with that case spelled out in some detail from fictional intimations and implications mostly as hazy as they are strong.

A Darwinist-sounding fictional charge against human family life that cut deep at the time was that it constricted and confined a species naturally free and loose. This was the force of Menalque's famed exclamation in Andre Gide's The Foods of the Earth (1897): "Families, I hate you!"(1) Gide's whole generation learned this reason for hating families from Henrik Ibsen. And Ibsen's supreme representation of human domesticity as a false departure from nature was The Wild Duck (1884). In this dramatic masterwork, a stunted household shares quarters with a captive, wounded wild duck lodged in a fake forest. A visitor from the woodlands asks the grandfather, a broken outdoorsman, how he can ever "live in the midst of a stuffy town, between four walls."(2) By way of reply the grandfather points self-contentedly to those indoor, make-believe woodlands where the lamed duck has been growing fat in its confinement. His dreamy, washed-out son explains: "She's been in there so long now that she's forgotten the true wild life; it's as simple as that."(3) In Ibsen's deft symbolism, that hapless duck stood for the human animal in captive domesticity, maimed and degenerating. In his earliest notes for the play Ibsen specified: "Human beings are sea creatures--like the wild duck--not land creatures." And he added hopefully: "In time, all people will live on [the sea], when the land becomes swallowed up. Then family life will cease."(4)

Ibsen taught Europe first off to look at marriage, the basis of its family life as far back as it knew, as an unequal partnership that turned the woman into a mere wife and mother, thereby arresting her personal development. As Ibsen saw it, woman may not have been man's rib to begin with, but her domestication had made her into man's appendix. "You are first and foremost a wife and mother," her husband admonishes rebellious Nora in A Doll House (1879), and Nora replies: "I don't believe that any longer."(5) Never could Nora have told her husband, for all his uxorious doting, that he was first and foremost a husband and father: such was the disparity built into their domestic setup. But the trouble with their marriage could, and at first mostly did, seem to onlookers across Europe to lie elsewhere--in his patronizing sexism, or in her legal disadvantages--and to be remediable accordingly through moral or legislative reform. Indeed, even in slamming the door on her "playpen"(6) with a resounding bang, Nora leaves it figuratively open to "the greatest miracle" of a true marriage with that same husband at some future time.(7) That tiny residual crack of an opening was unreal to her, to be sure: as she puts it at their grand moment of truth, "I no longer believe in miracles."(8) And Ibsen's dramas thereafter left no room for wishful thinking by his audiences about a woman's fulfillment within marriage whatever her husband's character or her relative rights: "Marriage . . . has ruined the human race" was his simple verdict.(9) For the basic problem in Ibsen's sight was that very institution, designed as it was for a woman to make a home for a man and to bear and rear his children. In marriage so conceived, the woman was perforce subordinate psychologically, an instrument of her husband and family, with no more satisfactory way to rebel against that subordination than to renounce sex and maternity. While some Ibsenite women after Nora, beginning with Mrs. Alving in Ghosts (1882), merely submit and suffer for want of a viable recourse, angry Rita in Little Eyolf (1894) reacts with an erotic possessiveness such that she inadvertently cripples and later kills the child that has become her husband's refuge from her.

Ibsen's deadly Rita at least loves her man, however badly. But marital love was literarily in short supply at this juncture. Leo Tolstoi's wife-killer in The Kreutzer Sonata (1887/1889) loathes his victim just because of his carnal bond with her: his situation as husband and father by its very nature incites the jealousy that prompts his deed. Tolstoi represented his bloody hero as exceptional only in that with manic consequence he acts out the murderousness that husbands otherwise repress. For Guy de Maupassant, marriage spelled the death of love, but not by dint of a Tolstoian dialectic of lust and shame; rather, the role of wife and mother was for Maupassant inherently inimical to love with its need for freedom. His "Adieu" (1884) is a lament over a former mistress's comedown to wifery and motherhood, and in his "Once Upon A Time" (1880) a grandmother sighs back to a mythic golden age when marriage was for breeding children while love was free outside. For Anton Chekhov too, love ended where domesticity began. But Europe's harshest view of matrimony and parenthood in those years was August Strindberg's. As against Romantic visionaries early in the nineteenth century, who had seen what wasn't there, Strindberg led a fin-de-siecle psychic breed that, like his autobiographic Sunday Child in The Ghost Sonata (1907), saw what was there but no one else saw, in this instance not at any rate until he had flooded it with a lurid light. What Strindberg saw was primarily the battle of the sexes, a deadly struggle for power infusing the physiology and psychology of love. Marriage was the choice arena for that struggle; children were its born instruments; jealousy was its chief weapon. In The Father (1887) a wife drives her husband insane with doubt over his paternity of their child. In Miss Julie (1888) a father and mother have fought out their love and hate through their daughter, Julie, who winds up a suicide. Dance of Death (1901) features an aging couple long since locked in a suffocating stranglehold on each other. The Ghost Sonata picks apart a respectable home pervaded by "crimes, deceit, and falsity of every kind."(10) Of a brother and sister born within a parental standoff in The Pelican (1907), the one sets fire to the family home in the end while the other cries as they perish together: "Everything has to burn up or we'll never get out of here."(11)

In Miss Julie and especially The Ghost Sonata, sexual struggles for power spill over into financial swindles and social impostures rather more than was usual with Strindberg, who saw money-grubbing and prestige-seeking as mere displacements from the basic genital tug-of-war. But to numberless literary contemporaries of Strindberg's the home was as much an economic as an affective unit, one as productive of conflicts and hatreds over property as over sex. For Emile Zola in The Earth (1887), family life was primarily an economic scramble, with lust itself subserving greed. Out of greed in various guises the peasant protagonist marries his cousin, rapes her sister, kills his mother, and burns his father alive. Comparably, Mikhail Soltykov-Shchedrin's The Golovlevs (1880) is a grim saga of a sanctimonious kulak draining his whole family bloodless, his miserly mother and his own three sons inclusive, until, alone at last, he dies begging forgiveness on his mother's grave. But fictitious peasant families could just as well spawn murderous rivalries over sex and land intermixed, as in Vladislav Stanislav Reymont's The Peasants (1902-1908) or Ludwig Thoma's The Widower (1911). The familial power play was brutally aboveboard as a rule in such earthy novels whereas in a bourgeois literary setting, even one magnified expressionistically by a Strindberg, it would remain devious and insidious.

Within that power play the strong might abuse the weak with impunity behind closed doors. As the son tells the mother in The Pelican: "You yourself know how you murdered my father by driving him to despair, which isn't punishable by law."(12) Like the son and daughter in The Pelican, Strindberg's Miss Julie and Ibsen's little Eyolf were casualties of their parents' matrimonial tangles. The Child by Jules Valles (1879) was the original novelized cry of protest from a battered child whose father was, as he put it, "master of me as of a dog."(13) A touching unsentimentalized successor to Valles's self-styled little rebel was the child heroine of Gerhart Hauptmann's Hannele's Ascension (1893), who flees her brutal stepfather into suicide accompanied by naive visions of paradise. The weak might also abuse the strong en famille through an exploitative dependency. Thus in Franz Kafka's The Metarmorphosis (1912) an overtaxed young family provider at the breaking point takes refuge in the mad idee fixe that he has become a bug--surely as stark an image as was ever drawn of the family as alienating and dehumanizing.

But the parental violence done to children in the fiction of the time was not usually either exploitative or battering. Rather, the child suffered under the governance of one or another set of elders who, however well-meaning, simply could not bridge the fundamental divide between children or even adolescents and themselves. Shortly before this surge of fictional family-bashing Ivan Turgenev's Fathers and Sons (1861) had posited the generation gap as a perennial difference in outlook and values between oldsters and youngsters ("It used to be Hegelians," grumbles an outmoded uncle, "and now it's nihilists"(14)) that is in no way limited to the family system and that the generational cycle itself smooths away in the end. By the fin-de-siecle that gap had turned into an abyss, one expressively dramatized by Frank Wedekind in his tragedy of sex among schoolchildren, Spring Awakening (1891), with its authority figures (parents, teachers, a preacher) shown as seen from below--as Grand Guignol grotesques, utterly uncomprehending and inaccessible. George Bernard Shaw had it in Misalliance (1910) that "there's a wall ten feet thick and ten miles high between parent and child,"(15) and prescriptively: "No man should know his own child. No child should know its own father. Let the family be rooted out of civilization! Let the human race be brought up in institutions!"(16) Shaw's staged bantering was in tune with Oscar Wilde's in An Ideal Husband (1895): "Fathers should be neither seen nor heard. That is the only proper basis for family life."(17) Otherwise, though, the ground tone was downbeat by and large wherever the theme of parental sins was sounded.

Dependent on parents at a vast existential remove from them, the fictional children of the time, especially single children, could feel desolately, desperately at loose ends. They might retreat inwardly: novelistic explorations of painful inner aloneness at home culminated in Marcel Proust's Swann's Way (1914) with its narrator's remembrance of having craved ever more affection as a pampered child. A classic tale of an unpampered juvenile exile within his family coping outwardly as best he could was Jules Renard's beloved Little Redhead (1894). But failure to cope was more the rule. It takes the hero of Samuel Butler's The Way of All Flesh (1884, published posthumously 1903) a whole sordid youth to shake loose from his household puritanism even after he has recognized his loving, controlling parents as "the most dangerous enemies he had in all the world."(18) The heroine of Gabriele Reuter's Well-Born (1895) grows up helplessly aware of "an unbridgeable gap between parents and children."(19) Before her mother in particular "she was a mere worm,"(20) foreshadowing Kafka's hero in The Metamorphosis. Her all too proper upbringing leaves her a sexual cripple. In John Gabriel Borkman (1896) late Ibsen depicted a youngster up against a father, mother, and mother's twin sister each needing and using him differently until he shouts: "I can't take it any longer!"(21) and flees to a femme fatale waiting to bear him off into the stormy night.

Still more damning for the family than such stunted lives were the child suicides that may even have outnumbered them in the fiction of the time. Marie von Ebner-Eschenbach's novelette The Honor Pupil (1897) was typical, even stereotypical. It told of an overstrained schoolboy who drowns himself rather than face his father and mother--the one a bully, the other a drudge--when he has flubbed a history test crucial for retaining his privileged standing. After his burial the brutalized wife reassures the broken husband that he had only meant well by the boy in driving him over the brink.(22) Child suicide came into three of the other works already cited (The Wild Duck, Spring Awakening, and Hannele's Ascension)--and adult suicide for reasons parental, another literary specialty of this period, into four more (The Golovlevs, Miss Julie, The Pelican, and The Metamorphosis). Suicides of the latter sort were central to Gerhart Hauptmann's dramas in particular. A daughter commits one in his Before Dawn (1889) for fear of degenerating like her father. In Lonely People (1891) a conscientious son can find no other way out of the pious parental abode that is stifling him. And in Michael Kramer (1900) a homely, off beat young sculptor takes that escape from his father's philistine contempt for him as a butt of everyone's ridicule.

Even in Hauptmann the inevitable generational conflict did not inevitably end with the child's suicide. A potentially deadly reactive animus of children against their parents was more the rule of the day, and Hauptmann followed this rule in The Peace Dinner (1890) about a son estranged from his father for six years after striking him in the face: they are reunited for a Christmas dinner at which the old fight flares up anew, the father this time collapsing fatally. Such an animus might be controlled, as by the son whose father tells him in The Wild Duck: "Gregers, I believe there is no one in the world you hate as much as you do me."(23) Parricide itself might be strictly verbal, as in this pithy exchange between mother and daughter from Dance of Death: "Your father is stricken." "A lot I care." "My own Judith!"(24) But words could presage deeds. "Not an hour went by in which my fingers didn't itch to strangle him," declares the heroine of Arthur Schnitzler's The Call of Life (1905) about her leech of a father,(25) whom she then proceeds to overdose with morphine. Schnitzler's heroine craved sexual emancipation, and indeed sex usually mixed into the generational war in one form or another, including sexual rivalry from Fyodor Dostoevski's The Brothers Karamazov (1879/1880) to the Reymont and Thoma novels. Nor did the parent-child animus always originate below the great parent-child divide: in The Father and again in Hermann Sudermann's drama Home (1893) a father takes a gun to his daughter.

J. M. Synge spoofed this whole fictional battle of the generations in his comedy The Playboy of the Western World (1907). There a stranger on the run enchants a whole village by relating how he split his father's skull in a scuffle after refusing to marry an ugly widow for the money his father wanted. His sex appeal soars. "There's a great temptation in a man did slay his da," explains a widow on the make.(26) She too had slain her da, she avows, but only by "a sneaky kind of murder did win small glory with the boys."(27) The lionized fugitive gloats: "Wasn't I a foolish fellow not to kill my father in the years gone by."(28) The girl who falls for him hardest has a suitor who laments: "Oh, it's a hard case to be an orphan and not to have your father that you're used to, and you'd easy kill and make yourself a hero in the sight of all."(29) The hero's charisma promptly vanishes when the father appears with a bandaged head in hot pursuit of his assailant. The son smites him again in a new scuffle, but now this apparent murder seen from close up strikes the villagers as a mere "dirty deed."(30) They are about to turn him in for it when the father reappears, bloody and somewhat bowed. The son leads him off triumphantly, lording it over him and therewith resolving the generational conflict--alas, for this one play alone.

Not only for the varieties of strife endemic to it was the family the villain of countless novels and plays of the time. Another grievance against the family current among fictionists then was that it had wrongly moralized, even sanctified, itself to cover up the carnality at its core. This charge resonated with old-style ascetical Christian sermonizing, and it is notable that Ibsen, who had no use for Christianity otherwise, first declared against the family through his stern preacher Brand (Brand 1866)--a dubious mouthpiece perhaps, for he winds up being swept away by an avalanche while a voice proclaims that God is charity. But the view of the family as so much window-dressing for the act of lust and shame led Leo Tolstoi into the outright Christian asceticism whereby, in The Kreutzer Sonata, he represented conjugality itself as bestiality. His uxoricidal hero at least posed an alternative to the family in passing: that the human race should just die out as did the dinosaurs.

Romanticism had already mocked bourgeois domestic proprieties alongside of its cult of the simple, homey virtues. Thereafter, from Gustave Flaubert's Madame Bovary (1857) through Tolstoi's Anna Karenina (1875/1877) to Theodor Fontane's Effi Briest (1894/1895) the novel showed increasing sympathy for mismated women victimized by the moral premium placed on marriage and motherhood. Ibsen's Hedda Gabler (1890) gave this mounting distaste for the familial ethos imposed on women a wrenching twist. Although its heroine is married and pregnant throughout, the play bears her maiden name to point up how miscast she was for that wifely and motherly role she was expected to play. Close behind the grand show she puts on, she despises her husband, writhes at his one relative who visits them, loathes their home styled ruinously to her taste, and haughtily refuses to acknowledge her pregnancy. Nor will she seek relief the conventional way, in love affairs: she recoils from sex itself as much as from the risk of scandal, always harder on a woman. Feeling trapped, she reacts with a nihilistic vengeance, in an orgy of destructiveness. She tempts a reformed alcoholic off the wagon, burns a great work by him in manuscript, gives him a revolver to kill himself with, and shoots herself in turn with its twin. Her would-be lover's curtain-ringer over her dead body is eloquent on the code of constraints that she too, like Nora before her, ultimately broke with a bang: "Such things just aren't done."(31)

The familial ethos enjoined love within the home, and this injunction was hit on several scores in the fiction of the time. For one thing, it could work as a sexual stimulant under a sexual taboo--a setup for suffering. Actual incest freely enjoyed in Zola's The Earth or Thomas Mann's The Blood of the Walsungs (1905) got off easier morally than incest recoiled from in Ibsen's Ghosts, incest inflicted in Hauptmann's Before Sunrise, or incest frustrated in Kafka's The Metamorphosis. Next, doting short of incest could be an intolerable drag: "Mother! How often I've almost wished and hoped you wouldn't care for me so deeply," exclaims the son in Ibsen's Ghosts.(32) But hardest hit was the duty to love even the unlovable within the family on pain of remorse. In Ghosts again a preacher asks a mother: "Have you forgotten that a child should love and honor its father and mother?" and the mother replies: "Oh, don't let's talk so abstractly! Let's ask: should Osvald love and honor Captain Alving?"(33) The answer is no, as Mrs. Alving knows. Yet she has lied to her Osvald in letters out of a felt need to keep the paternal image clean, and she admonishes him shortly afterwards in the preacher's very idiom: "Shouldn't a child feel some love for its father no matter what?" Osvald duly replies in his mother's own vein: "Do you really cling to that old superstition--you, so enlightened otherwise?"(34) With further Ibsenite irony the family circle then closes around Osvald like a noose as he succumbs to the same degenerative disease as did the father he rejects. Gerhart Hauptmann in The Peace Dinner repeated this fatalistic scheme of Ibsen's. "Do you think I feel any special respect for my father, huh? Or maybe I love him, maybe I feel filial gratitude?" scoffs a son who is a prey to his father's own mental deterioration.(35) Both Ibsen and Hauptmann meant physical inheritance, but this was no less a metaphor for children's affective ties to their parents against their better judgment. Longest-winded against "compulsory affection" among the familial pieties was Shaw, that would-be perfect Ibsenite, in his preface to Misalliance,(36) and in this play itself a child of a happy marriage exclaims: "Oh home! home! parents! family! duty! how I loathe them! How I'd like to see them all blown to bits!"(37) Shaw's debt here was to Samuel Butler as much as to Ibsen. Butler's hero in The Way of All Flesh matures only by coming to terms with his wrenching dislike for both his parents. A sidelong glance at the animal kingdom convinces him, moreover, that the human family is against nature: "The ants and the bees, who far outnumber men, sting their fathers to death as a matter of course," he observes with envy.(38) Hard as it was to face unlovable parents as just that, their moral ascendancy could otherwise be devastating as in Well-Born or deadly as in Miss Julie.

The moralization of the family entailed as a further penalty the need to maintain appearances. The Ghost Sonata carried this need to a ludicrous extreme what with the members of a household always "saying the same things or saying nothing at all so as not to give themselves away,"(39) for they are bound together like all good families by "crimes and secrets and guilt."(40) From The Wild Duck to The Ghost Sonata, the effort to clear the air of such stifling falsity turned tragic over and again.

The little heroine of What Maisie Knew by Henry James (1897) is a personified contradiction of the moralized, moralizing family. Maisie's closest novelistic lineage was that of Oliver Twist, a child who, while cut adrift from his family, runs a moral obstacle course unscathed: at the juvenile end of this line was Hector Malot's Without A Family (1878). Maisie, though, is no orphan, virtual or actual. Rather, she grows up as the only child in an ambiance averse to family life--an aversion underscored by her playboy stepfather's repeated empty protests that he really is a family man at heart. Maisie's divorced parents first shunt her back and forth to spy on each other, then slough her off on governesses, before finally abandoning her to a stepmother and stepfather who have used her to get together. Even while precociously exposed to the facts of life, not least through her mother's steady turnover of lovers, Maisie develops a dignity and strength of character such that, on adolescing, she is able to walk away from the affluent stepfather she adores, and into the custody of a straight-laced governess, when he declines to give up his self-willed, self-seeking mistress for her sake. This child of an antifamily within a greedy and promiscuous milieu scales that Jamesian height all on her own.

In the long view of it taken at the time, the family appeared as an overarching reality, one with a constraining inner dynamic independent of the wants and needs of its individual members. A preserve for old wounds rather than old joys, it could exact tribute for them years or even generations later, as when a daughter in The Wild Duck commits the suicide flubbed by her grandfather, then by her father, before she was born, and with the same revolver to boot. Its inertial coherence is such that it can, and repeatedly does, outlive its affective bonds and utilitarian functions until its "life spring" sickens and dries up as in The Ghost Sonata.(41) Or else its values become unlivable and hence destructive as in Hauptmann's Lonely People. Encrusted family codes victimizing family members were the stock-in-trade of countless novelists of the time, among them John Galsworthy beginning with The Country House (1907). A naive period piece in this vein is Francois de Curel's drama The Fossils (1892) about a young aristocrat dying of some wasting disease, with his family facing extinction: in extremis he marries his father's and his own mistress to legitimate her newborn son while his sister pledges her life to helping the improper mother raise the boy properly. But surely the family spirit (Ibsen's "ghosts") celebrated its grimmest fictional triumph in Zola's The Earth through a pregnant peasant wife roped by her cousin and murdered by her sister: in dying she covers up their crime, and even disinherits her husband from distant parts for their benefit, out of "a deep family sentiment stronger than hatred or the need for revenge."(42)

With his Rougon-Macquart novels, begun in 1871, about a widely ramified family, Zola pioneered the post-Darwinist notion, which swept the fictional field, that the family was the vehicle for degeneration in the species, or for short that decadence inhered in families. "I tell you, his father was a disgusting fellow who kept mistresses and the like; and so, you see, the son has been sickly since childhood," remarks Nora in Ibsen's A Doll House,(43) and that son himself later adds: " . . . in every last family to some extent this inexorable retribution takes place. . . ."(44) This incidental, even extraneous, theme of A Doll House of 1879 was central to Ibsen's Ghosts three years later, with its legitimate son paying a steeper price at a younger age for his father's sins than did that father himself. At the same time, that blood taint in Ghosts passes an illegitimate daughter by as far as the play discloses. Conversely, in The Wild Duck ten years later a teenager is already going blind like her natural father--this, however, within a legitimate family thought to be hers, which legitimated the degeneration. Syphilis and alcohol came into the degenerative process quite commonly in the 1880s without ever being essential to it. Thus dissipation sped the hapless breed in Hermann Bang's Hapless Breeds (1880) along its Darwinian way down; the Galovlevs in The Galovlevs drink and whore when they degenerate, not vice versa; Hauptmann gave up on vice fermenting degeneration inside of the one year between Before Sunrise (1889) and The Peace Dinner (1890). Strindberg for his part had no use for ferments, from his pseudo-Darwinist preface to Miss Julie on--though in The Ghost Sonata he did help out degeneration through a cook draining the vital juices from the family's food. By the time of Gabriele D'Annunzio's The Virgins of the Rocks (1895) or Thomas Mann's Buddenbrooks (1900), the family progressively devitalized down the generations was a literary cliche, including heightened awareness and sensitivity among the terminal brood. End-of-the-line neurotic aestheticism ran from Jens Peter Jacobsen's Niels Lynhe (1880) through Joris-Karl Huysmans's Against the Grain (1884) and Hauptmann's Michael Kramer (1900) to Rainer Maria Rilke's The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge (1910). A masterly last word on decaying houses, their sapped energies drained by their own musty rules of life, is Eduard Graf von Keyserling's Evening Houses (1914).

Even this depressing theme of the ever more baleful family heritage could inspire a comedy. In Harley Granville-Barker's The Voysey Inheritance (1905) an heir apparent to his father's investment firm learns that the old man has been defrauding his clients for years. He covers up until the father's death, prepared to declare bankruptcy then after indemnifying the neediest victims. But the other Voyseys back away from his effort at restitution. Worse, his accountant tries to blackmail him while two wary old family friends press him to pay up their depleted accounts. In papering over the firm's deficit until he can make it good, he acquires a taste for juggling, faking, and swindling such as his father had acquired from his own father before him. And he grows manlier in the process until the girl cousin who had once despised him as a callow fool can return his love. As he had told the assembled family fast upon his father's burial: "You've the poison in your blood, every one of you," adding: "Who am I to talk? I daresay so have I."(45)

Such were some of the damning indications against the family that pervaded European fiction in the few decades before the First World War. To exemplify them I have barely skimmed the enormous literature involved.(46) This literature ran to type, theme for theme, from its finest showings on down to the penny thrillers of the day featuring "unhappy couples and hapless marriages."(47) And it ran to type Europe-wide if not quite on the supply side, at all odds on the consumption end: even the most sophisticated fiction in this vein found vast and eager markets throughout the continent. Its message hardly varied with authors' or readers' gender,(48) class, or nationality, so to approach it along such dividing lines would be to miss the whole for the parts, the forest for the trees, the river for its currents and cross-currents. Fiction friendlier to the family in this same period was swamped, besides trailing A Doll House and its numberless sequels in esteem and popularity both.(49) Nor did that fictional quarrel with the family, which began with A Doll House, cease with the advent of the First World War, only it no longer dominated the scene thereafter.

This European ground swell against the family in literary fantasy was wholly unprecedented, despite occasional earlier ripples. Marriage and the family had come into previous creative works almost always as a mere setting and not a subject proper. Resentments and rivalries galore, only no inveterate generational estrangement, had pitted children against parents in older drama and verse, folklore and farce. In Greek tragedy, familial calamity--the curse on the house of Atreus, Oedipus' parricide and incest, Phaedra's deadly lust for her stepson--was never made to look like an upshot of familial existence per se. The troubadours already sang the antithesis of love and marriage, but marriage was no less the precondition for their lyrical adultery. Possibly John Ford blamed the incest in 'Tis Pity She's A Whore, as did Shelley for sure in The Cenci, but neither blamed it on the dynamics of family life; Shelley indeed saved his strictures against marriage for his anarchistic tracts.(50) Moliere's Tartuffe lampooned the bossy father, and Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice the silly mother, without calling parental authority into question. All Werther's sorrows were no argument against Lotte's marriage and motherhood, let alone against the family overall, whether in young Goethe's eyes or in Werther's own. Not easier divorce, but renunciation, was the lesson of Goethe's later Elective Affinities with its fateful adultery committed in the heart on both sides of the marital act. Dickens and Balzac painted bad families black-on-black only to paint good families white-on-white. Not only did European fiction first indict the family in 1879-1914; it did so then for a newly swollen mass market, with literacy rates surging and printing costs sinking.

That fictional indictment was no less powerful for being mostly implicit. A Henry James for one, though no family man himself, just might have arched an eyebrow if confronted with the implications of his story-telling against the regnant cult of Home, Sweet Home, but the implications would remain. Subversive messages get through best surreptitiously, which may be why Strindberg himself frequently denied being antifamily. In the nonfiction of this same period, a few autobiographers told of generational conflicts, mostly conflicts of outlook as in Turgenev's Fathers and Sons: thus Ibsen's disciple Edmund Gosse with novelistic flourish in his Father and Son (1907). Otherwise, though, the fictional strictures against the family found little echo in the explicit social criticism of the time. Previously, Europe had not wanted for straight-spoken, activist enemies of the hearth, from Dionysian revelers through Christian ascetics down to the numberless radicals and utopians who, in the long aftermath of 1789, had called for an end of marriage and the family in the name of human emancipation. By the 1880s, however, their most vocal survivors or descendants had put such drastic objectives on their programmatic back burners. Extremists now sought rather to reform the family, a few oddball die-hards notwithstanding.(51) Witness Alfred Naquet, who in 1869 advocated universal free love on neo-Malthusian grounds and dismissed divorce as unavailing, then by 1876 was championing divorce in France as a means to preserve the family and boost fertility.(52) Even the boldest humanistic thinkers of the following decades, such as Nietzsche and Freud, did not quarrel with the family as an institution (Zarathustra's proud celibacy notwithstanding). Anthropologists stressed its universality while they inventoried its diverse forms. Sociologists upheld it as a vehicle of social cohesion and continuity--following Frederic Le Play, who spent his career documenting and combatting an imaginary historic trend toward ever more "unstable" households with children moving out on their parents as soon as they were able.(53) Learned treatises on human degeneration did not discuss it as inherent in families(54); only plays and novels did that. Public authorities, educators, religionists, hygienists, psychologists, criminologists: all saw in the family a bulwark of social salubrity, for that very reason to be protected, doctored, overhauled. Correspondingly, for over a century past the family had to all appearances been growing ever sturdier and homier, "closer and more affectionate," substituting conjugal and parental companionship for the old patriarchal norms, indeed reconstituting itself in fact and fancy as an intimate, privatized "retreat from the outside world" with its "crucial base" in this "sentimental bond" among its members.(55) The literary trend to the very contrary was, then, like the flip side of public consciousness--a latent countertendency at odds with familial values fairly entrenched in Europe's social instincts and attitudes, and outwardly flourishing as never before. This discordance, remarkable in itself, is doubly so in that the older, outright antifamilialism had been culturally marginal: the mainstream fictional campaign against the family that began around 1879 was new in being mainstream as well as in being fictional.

What gave rise to this mainstream fictional repudiation of the family throughout Europe that began around 1879? The first place to look for an answer is in the family itself, to see whether something there did not change radically in those same years. And something there did change radically. For those were the years when conjugal birth control first spread throughout the European population as a whole.

Traditionally, as Malthus originally saw or guessed, Europe's population had been self-regulating to obviate or, conversely, repair the ravages of famine and pestilence.(56) While illegitimacy was consistently discouraged, legitimate fertility rose or fell above all with bridal ages, also with marriage rates, and thirdly with breastfeeding practices. Marriage ages and rates adjusted to conditions of penury or plenty from time to time and from place to place on the quasi invariable basis of so-called "natural fertility" within marriage, meaning no deliberate curtailments of conjugal reproduction. Legitimate fertility rates running slightly below those of the surrounding population over some generations have been found for certain well-to-do, educated, mostly urban groups in early modern Europe, affording presumptive evidence of birth control--the bourgeoisie of Geneva, Rouen, and Lyon, Tuscan Jews, Hungarian Calvinists, Venetian, Genoese, Florentine, Milanese, and Belgian aristocrats, and most strikingly French dukes and peers.(57) Other premodern instances of low-grade marital birth control have no doubt escaped detection, not to mention more assiduously contraceptive groups or families that would have eliminated themselves on short order. But the fact that all known deviations from natural fertility within marriage were isolated, sporadic, and moderate underscores the ground rule that Europe's premodern population tended spontaneously to constrict its high potential growth within feasible bounds by aggregate adjustments that excluded any intentional limitation of marital fertility. Indeed, these spontaneous homeostatic accommodations served to protect and sustain natural fertility within marriage, so that natural fertility can be called the psychological sticking point of the premodern family. Even infanticide could be routine in marriages where birth control was unthinkable.

Marriage rates rose and marriage ages fell on balance in Europe as living conditions improved throughout the nineteenth century. Death rates meanwhile had begun plunging in the late eighteenth century, mainly from superior food supply and sanitation but also from a new concern with infant survival.(58) With ever higher proportions of offspring reaching childbearing age as a result, the problem arose for Europe to contain this huge human upsurge within manageable limits even despite the supermortality of marriageable males due to the wars of the French Revolution and Napoleon. Massive emigration ensued, with inadequate effects. At the same time Europe's richest and boldest nation, France, moved in another direction. Marital birth control, already known in France above all to the affluent and enlightened at least since the sixteenth century, began to spread significantly throughout the nation around the time of the Revolution. French marital issue fell off steadily thereafter until the 1830s, then rebounded for over a generation before resuming its downward course in the 1870s. And then it was, beginning in the 1870s, that the rest of Europe too took to deliberately limiting conceptions within marriage--the intelligentsia and the ruling classes first, the more northerly peoples first, as a rule the city folk first, but in all national areas and all walks of life inside of a single generation, with revolutionary consequences for European society overall.

Europeans set their new course of generalized marital birth control collectively for want of a viable alternative in the face of a drastic existential threat. Why that course was set has long been a futile statistical guessing game in which one plausible hypothetical correlate of incipient marital birth control after another--industrialization, rising living standards, secularization, feminism, the spread of contraceptive means or knowledge--has failed to check out causally.(59) The snag all along was conceptual. That European conjugal revolution of the late nineteenth century needs to be grasped as a collective doing, or in psychohistorical parlance a group process, in line with Europe's age-old, inveterate demographic self-regulation. By the 1870s Europe faced an unprecedented, potentially devastating internal invasion. At the peak rate of increase it was then running, its population of some 330,000,000 in the 1870s was headed toward a couple of billion over the next century--a truly forbidding prospect. To have stemmed this human tidal wave in the traditional way, by juggling marriage rates and ages, to the extent that it actually did so by conjugal birth control would have called for condemning nearly two out of every three women to celibacy without issue or else forbidding all women to marry before their middle thirties--both options impracticable from the word go. That is why Europeans adopted marital birth control instead on top of their continuing large-scale emigration. And that radical emergency measure was too little too late at that: they topped it off with the positive check of massive self-slaughter beginning in 1914.

The incidence of birth control on family life was mainly of two sorts, both of critical psychological importance. First, with married couples having by design only just so many children--typically four or five among the first family planners, then three, then one or two, all of them expected to survive into adulthood--the parental investment in and concern over each child rose proportionally.(60) Earlier parents too might dote on their children, to be sure, but not even the Christian god could love each of his many creatures on a par with his only begotten son.(61) Through birth control the human family pushed to artificial lengths what biologists call the K-strategy of few, protected offspring as against the R-strategy of animals that scatter their seed in heedless abundance. Or again, to trespass on yet another discipline, the family developed the ultimate in a capital-intensive emotional economy. Familial intimacy soared, but at the same time it grew "explosive."(62) When the son exclaims in Ibsen's Ghosts (as quoted above): "Mother! How often I've almost wished and hoped you wouldn't care for me so deeply," the mother replies as if to bear him out: "Oh, Osvald, my only boy! You're all I have in this world and all I care about?"(63) The parallel crucial effect of birth control on family life was that it created a generation gap within the family circle, and this even though the average parental age decreased. That is, the trend was for women to marry younger and, once married, to start childbearing promptly as before, then to stop earlier, so that parental ages fell by and large.(64) But formerly, with a wife normally bearing children until the end of her fertility span if she survived that long, her children's ages were correspondingly fanned out however many died along the way. Thus her first-born might already be having children of their own before she herself was done. As a result, each generation passed imperceptibly into the next. After the 1870s, by contrast, with a couple typically having four, three, or two children in its mid-twenties and then stopping, the generational divide was acute and conspicuous.(65)

These two phenomena together go a long way toward explaining the trouble that European fictionists all at once found with the family from 1879 forward--especially inasmuch as their grievances against it took shape fictionally, which is to say imaginatively rather than logically, or more in the way of dreams than of arguments. That families were against nature and inherently decadent; that their nexus was fleshly lust cloaked by false moralism; that their affective ties were dangerously ambivalent; that their built-in power struggles and claims on their members' loyalties were potentially destructive; that parents, for all their despotic or even tender authority over their children, were inaccessible to them: this whole fictional repertoire of charges against the family at large points to the small, tight-knit, birth-controlled family with its emotional involution and its generational divide. Tolstoi's hero in The Kreutzer Sonata actually drew this connection between conjugal birth control and the turn against the family in that he dated his own deadly struggle with his wife from her doctors' prescribing contraception when she fell sick after her fifth delivery--when her womb went on strike.(66) Likewise, sterilized sex is easy to recognize behind Strindberg's recurrent symbol of filth and foulness clogging the hearth--and it is explicit in Strindberg's characterization of modern, unwholesome families where children are "nipped in the bud . . . in the bedroom" as a matter of course.(67) Zola's Fertility (1899) was a cautionary tale against marital contraception in which a fruitful family flourishes even as shrunken families come to grief. And Henry James set his grand little Maisie off against her parents' social set representing a contraceptive extreme: "There are no family women--hanged if there are!" declares Maisie's stepfather. "None of them want any children--hanged if they do!"(68) But birth control is written into the whole corpus of this antifamilial literature in that, after Nora's three children in A Doll House, the usual number for a fictional couple fast fell to two or more often one. Already in Turgenev's precursive Fathers and Sons each of the two sons was an only child. So were the children in Ibsen's Ghosts and The Wild Duck, in Jacobsen's Niels Lynhe and in Hermann Bang's Hapless Breeds, in Strindberg's The Father and again in his Miss Julie, and so on through the 1880s and beyond.(69)

The initial indication is, then, that Europeans, through their fiction of roughly 1879-1914 up and down the artistic scale, highlighted and drasticized the troubles they felt with their newly truncated families. That fiction tended to originate in the nations as in the milieux where birth control spread into the family earliest. But it was all-European in inspiration and acceptation both: nothing quite like it developed in contraceptive France alone before the 1870s,(70) or for that matter in contraceptive America before the 1920s.(71) Its authors were themselves of diverse familial circumstances. At the extremes among those cited above, Strindberg had seven-and-a-half siblings to Zola's none and three marriages to none for Butler or Maupassant, while Tolstoi had thirteen children from his one marriage as against none for Zola or Shaw from theirs.(72) Each author was perforce sensitive to different problems with the birth-controlled family as a result of different personal experiences. What matters here, though, is only the vast resonance found by their works that add up to a horrified European shudder at the family itself.

Europe's dismal, depressive, mud-splattered fictional image of the family around 1879-1914 was mildly nightmarish--or rather, in a nonword, daymarish. It was the reverse, or the negative, of the exalted official image of the family that then held sway in Europe. It conveyed a deep undercover malaise felt inside the family and toward the family in Europe. And in its routine bleakness and catastrophism it was a guilty vision.

The source of the guilt infusing that vision is evident. Marital contraception crashed a huge moral barrier. Christianity had blessed the family down the centuries on the pagan premise that its purpose was to reproduce.(73) In the Christian perspective, God had designed sex for propagation, with marriage as its hallowed precinct. Christianly speaking, sex outside of marriage was naughty enough; unnatural sex within marriage, sex deflected from its reproductive end, was wickeder still--an obscene abuse of the marital sacrament.(74) That Europe's churchmen failed to inveigh much against gratifying the groin fruitlessly in holy wedlock until after massive contraception began in the 1870s suggests that they had little call to do so.(75) How those premodern Christian minorities that curtailed conjugal fertility here and there did so remains uncertain. But less marital sex is the safest bet, for there is no good reason why the strictures against defiling marriage with sex for its own sake should have gone unheeded in just those few instances and no others. Coitus interruptus made inroads into marriage from the late sixteenth century on,(76) but not distinctively among minorities with low fertility rates except French bluebloods, so it did not add up. In any case, the generalized adoption of contraceptive sex within marriage marked a daring and dizzying reversal of Europeans' basic attitudes toward their bodies and souls alike, a collective transgression of an age-old, Christianized taboo that had carried over intact even into post-Christian mindsets. Wives often took the innovative lead, for it was they who had paid the stiff penalties of natural fertility all along while men had enjoyed easier premarital and extramarital sex. By contracepting within marriage, whether or not they thought it through in these terms, they in effect claimed their bodies as their own to use or enjoy as they pleased instead of organic machines for reproducing as long as they could. Maupassant's "Useless Beauty" (1890) was like a manifesto for wives who had had it with reproducing: its thirty-year-old heroine feels she has paid her demographic dues in bearing her husband seven children, so she walks out on the lot of them by means of a lie and a ruse. Alternatively, walking out by mutual consent within conjugality brought with it powerful latent shame and guilt--shame between spouses at copulating just for fun, as Tolstoi proclaimed, and guilt on each side first and foremost over the old taboo being broken.

Earlier I presented the factual family contraction and fictional family critique of 1879-1914 in Europe as cause and effect: smaller, tighter families, at closer emotional quarters but divided generationally, made for heightened domestic tensions that for the most part got spelled out or acted out only in novels or plays. But such fictional spelling out and acting out was largely ahead of its time. Europe's Sunday Children saw the crack in the house before it spread (to draw on Strindberg's self-version in The Ghost Sonata)--anticipated the full domestic incidence of a fertility revolution that had barely begun in the 1880s or even the 1890s. This anticipation came heavy with projective guilt from the broken taboo, over the contracepted children, toward nature itself. But much more to this same effect: in Europe at large, marital contraception was felt to be a first, decisive step away from the family. To call Tolstoi in The Kreutzer Sonata to witness again, with that step a wife and mother turned into a whore.(77) So indeed, to cite Henry James again now, did that wife and mother and that husband and father who called it quits after having just Maisie both promptly go promiscuous. Or to recur to the very point of departure for the fictional critique of the family: Ibsen's unpregnant Nora, eight years married, her three children all old enough to run on stage, had apparently put a halt to childbearing before the curtain rose. Hence this prototypical rebel against the family was also a prototypical contracepting wife. Her telling her husband on walking out: "Our home's been nothing but a playpen" is subtly evocative of a contraceptive menage. Her declared position is that she will no longer be a mere wife and mother: if that is what marriage is for, then down with marriage. Once the natural family was on the line, so too was the family all in all.

Europe's fiction thereafter tended to justify and to punish the contraceptive revolt against the family at one and the same time by both blackening the family and visiting it with doom. The first generation of Europeans to practice prophylactic sex on top of baby-budgeting in marriage broke with the family as it had been known from time immemorial. If deep down that felt as though they were breaking with the family tout court, well might Europeans of 1879-1914 be haunted by visions of the seemingly snug and cosy birth-controlled family potentiating evils belonging to the family as such. And this was indeed the subtext of Europe's familial fiction in that great age of social realism.

Department of History Waltham, MA 02254-9110


My research for this study was supported by grants from the Fulbright Commission and from Brandeis University's Mazer Fund. Besides the libraries at Brandeis University, I mostly used the Bibliotheque Nationale in Paris, the British Library in London, the Biblioteca Nazionale in Florence, and the Staatsbibliothek in Berlin. The Institut National d'Etudes Demographiques put its top-of-the-line facilities in Paris at my disposal: my greatest collegial debts there are to Jacqueline Hecht and Patrick Festy. Finally, David Troyansky, Jean-Pierre Bardet, Alain Corbin, Samuel K. Cohn, Stephen Kern, and Raffael Scheck all gave me coveted feedback on my working drafts.

1. Andre Gide, Les nourritures terrestres (Paris, 1917-1936), 69.

2. Henrik Ibsen, Vildanden in Samlede verker (Oslo, 1978), V, 42.

3. Ibid., 46.

4. Quoted by Michael Meyer, Hedda Gabler and Three Other Plays (Garden City, NY, 1962), 135.

5. Henrik Ibsen, Et Dukkehejm in Samlede verker op. cit. IV, 201.

6. Ibid., 199.

7. Ibid., 205.

8. Ibid.

9. Quoted in Henrik Ibsen, The Wild Duck, tr. and ed. Dounia B. Christiani (New York, 1968), 83 from Ibsen's notes for The Wild Duck.

10. August Strindberg, Spoksonaten in Kammarspel (Stockholm, 1917), 191.

11. August Strindberg, Pelikanen in Kammarspel op. cit. 279.

12. Ibid., 266.

13. Jules Valles, L'enfant (Paris, 1968), 301. Claude Salleron, "La litterature au XIXe siecle et la famille" in Robert Prigent, ed., Renouveau des idees sur la famille (Paris, 1954), 78 calls this novel from the social depths "one of the most vehement protests ever launched against the family."

14. Ivan Turgenev, Otsi i deti in Sobranie sechnenii, III (Moscow, 1961), 139.

15. George Bernard Shaw, Misalliance in Collected Plays With Their Prefaces (London, 1972), IV, 187.

16. Ibid., 246.

17. Oscar Wilde, An Idea Husband in Oscar Wilde, ed. Isobel Murray (Oxford, 1989), 459.

18. Samuel Butler, The Way Of All Flesh (Harmondsworth, 1966), 325.

19. Gabriele Reuter, Aus guter Familie (Berlin, 1909), 45.

20. Ibid., 40.

21. Henrik Ibsen, John Gabriel Borkman in Samlede verker VI, 252.

22. Marie von Ebner-Eschenbach, Der Vorzugsschuler in Aus Spatherbsttagen 2 vols. (Berlin, 1901), I, 126.

23. Henrik Ibsen, Vildanden, 25.

24. August Strindberg, Dodsdansen (Stockholm, 1988), 227.

25. Arthur Schnitzler, Der Ruf des Lebens in Gesammelte Werke II:3 (Berlin, 1912), 298.

26. J. M. Synge, The Playboy of the Western World in J. M. Synge's Plays, Poems, and Prose (London, 1941), 125.

27. Ibid.

28. Ibid., 127.

29. Ibid., 139.

30. lbid., 165.

31. Henrik Ibsen, Hedda Gabler in Samlede verker op. cit. V 411: "... slikt noe gjor man da ikke!" The usual English translation--"People don t do such things!"--blunts Ibsen's point.

32. Henrik lbsen, Gengangere in Samlede verker op. cit. IV, 260.

33. Ibid., 245.

34. Ibid., 279.

35. Gerhart Hauptmann, Das Friedensfest in Samtliche Werke (Frankfurt, 1966), I, 121.

36. Shaw, 113.

37. Ibid., 182.

38. Butler, 131.

39. Strindberg, Spoksonaten, 175.

40. Ibid., 183.

41. Ibid., 209.

42. Emile Zola, La terre in Les Rougon Macquart (Paris, 1981?), 498.

43. Ibsen, Et Dukkhejm, 157.

44. Ibid., 165.

45. Harley Granville-Barker, The Voysey Inheritance (London, 1967), 59; cf. 100 on familial evils, 106 on families shrinking.

46. A broader survey of just the parent-child conflict in European fiction is Kurt K. T. Wais, Das Vater-Sohn Motiv in der Dichtung bis 1880 and Dos Vater-Sohn Motiv in der Dichtung 1880-1930 (both Berlin, 1931), and in German fiction alone Gerda Eichbaum, "Jugendprobleme im Spiegel der deutschen Dichtung (1880-1930)," Zeitschrift fur deutsche Bildung VII (1931): 612-21.

47. Agnes Fine, "Enfant et normes familiales" in Jacques Dupaquier et al., Histoire de la population francaise III: De 1789 a 1914 (Paris, 1988), 458.

48. Thus the heroine of Colette's La vagabonde (1910) fled domestication in the very footsteps of lbsen's Nora. More to the point, while the leading authors of the period were mostly male, their public was not; for a woman's deeply felt kinship with Ibsen's female characters in their time, see Lou Andreas-Salome, Henrik Ibsens Frauen-Gestalten (1891).

49. Jacques Madaule, "La famille dans la litterature francaise" in Prigent 120-26 finds a single significant clearcut affirmation of the family in French fiction for this period: Charles Peguy s sacred poem Eve.

50. Not counting a holograph note on his Queen Mab: Neville Rogers, ed., The Complete Poetical Works of Percy Bysshe Shelley I (Oxford, 1972), 266, 301ff.

51. See e.g. George Drysdale, The Elements of Social Science; or, Physical, Sexual, and Natural Religion (London, 1854), no longer anonymous from 1886 (London: Standring from 1905). In France even radical feminism did not target the family: Karen Offen, "Depopulation, Nationalism, and Feminism," American Historical Review LXXXIX (June 1984): 648-76; Steven C. Hause with Anne R. Kenney, Women's Suffrage and Social Politics in the Third French Republic (Princeton, 1984).

52. Alfred Naquet, Religion, propriete, famille (Paris, 1869), 228-310; Le divorce (Paris, 1876; revised E. Dentu 1881), 108-09, 184-85, and passim. Naquet's divorce law passed the French parliament in 1884 on the ground of family interest: Jacques Desforges, "La loi Naquet" in Prigent 107. In Vers l'union libre (Paris, 1908) Naquet recurred to free love for the communist future. Like Naquet pushing divorce, Leon Blum called for premarital free love to the end of improving marriage: Du mariage (Paris, 1907).

53. Frederic Le Play, L'organisation de la famille (Paris, 1871), 9 and passim.

54. See e.g. the authoritative B. A. Morel, Traite degenerescences physiques, intellectuelles et morales de l'espece humaine (Paris, 1857), 47-63, 561-72; also Paul J. Mobius, Uber Entartung (Wiesbaden, 1900), passim.

55. Tamara K. Hareven, "Family History at the Crossroads" Journal of Family History XII (1987): xviii; John Burnett, ed., Destiny Obscure. Autobiographies of Childhood, Education and Family from the 1820s to the 1920s (London, 1982), 261, similarly 53. Further, Michael Mitterauer and Reinhard Sieder, Vom Patriarchat zur Partnerschaft. Zum Strukturwandel der Familie (Munich, 1977); Marzio Barbagli, Sotto lo stesso tetto. Mutamenti della famiglia in Italia dal XV al XX secolo (Bologna, 1984).

56. "Increased births following upon increased deaths seems to be a fairly common demographic phenomenon, almost as if the population automatically sought to maintain its numerical equilibrium in the face of sudden losses": David Herlihy, Medieval and Renaissance Pistoia. The Social History of an Italian Town, 1200-1430 (New Haven, 1967), 95.

57. A good summary is Massimo Livi Bacci, "Social-Group Forerunners of Fertility Control in Europe" in Anthony J. Coale and Susan Cotts Watkins, eds., The Decline of Fertility in Europe (Princeton, 1986), 182-200. The evidence is compelling for French dukes and peers beginning in the late seventeenth century and strong as well for the Genevan bourgeoisie from before 1600, the Genoese patriciate from 1600, Rouen's bourgeoisie from 1630, and the Milanese patriciate after 1750. In the tricky Milanese case, interpregnancy intervals lengthened, which might suggest longer lactation replacing wetnursing except that protogenesic intervals lengthened as well: Dante E. Zanetti, La demografia del patriziato milanese nei secoli XVII, XVIII, XIX (Pavia, 1972): 87, 134-74, 200. Herlihy, Pistoia, 86 infers a possibility of customary marital birth control from a 1424 smallish post-plague bumper crop of Pistoian babies more likely due to "younger marriages" (and, I would add, to half of Pistoian nurslings dying in the plague, so that their mothers resumed ovulation that much earlier). Still less plausibly, David Herlihy and Christine Klapisch-Zuber, Les Toscans et leurs familles (Paris, 1978), 439-42 suggests possible marital birth control in poorer Tuscan households because in 1427 they counted fewer living children than richer households; for marriages at all odds those data hardly substantiate Bernardino's Tuscan preachments of 1427 invoking the cries of babies "thrown into your Arno and your privies or ... killed in their mothers' bellies": Samuel K. Cohn, Death and Property in Siena, 1205-1800. Strategies for the Afterlife (Baltimore, 1988), 31. E. A. Wrigley argued birth control in tiny Colyton (Devon) 1647-1719 from the wives' relatively long last birth intervals (after a plague, with marriage ages soaring), but later he conceded that his results were open to question: "Family Limitation in Pre-Industrial England," Economic History Review XIX (1966): 82-109, reprinted in E. A. Wrigley, People, Cities and Wealth. The Transformation of Traditional Society (Oxford, 1987), 242-69; "Marital Fertility in Seventeenth-Century Colyton: A Note" ibid. XXXI (1978), 429-36 (433 for his concession, and for "how sensitive a very small sample must be to minor data changes ... because of the very small numbers involved"); further, Richard B. Morrow, "Family Limitation in Pre-Industrial England: A Reappraisal," ibid., 419-28; also, Coale and Watkins, 411n.

58. Jacqueline Hecht, "Le Siecle des Lumieres et la conservation des petits enfants," Population VI (1992): 1589-1620.

59. Etienne Van de Walle, "Motivations and Technology in the Decline of French Fertility" in Robert Wheaton and Tamara K. Hareven, eds., Family and Sexuality French History (Philadelphia, 1980), 135-78; Susan Cotts Watkins, "Conclusions" in Coale and Watkins op. cit. 420-49; Wally Seccombe, "Starting to Stop: Working-Class Fertility Decline in Britain," Past and Present No. 126 (February 1990): 151-52.

60. Robert Graves, born in 1895, experienced a contrario as one of ten siblings, "a diminution of parental affection": Goodbye To All That (1929; Garden City, NY, 1957), 12.

61. Ceslaus Spicq, Agape dans le Nouveau Testament: Analyse des textes 3 vols. (Paris, 1958-69), I, 70-71, 73-74, 266-67; II 209; III 130-31, 135, 151-52.

62. I take this term and concept from Stephen Kern's pioneering "Explosive Intimacy: Psychodynamics of the Victorian Family," History of Childhood Quarterly I (1974): 439-61.

63. Henrik Ibsen, Gengangere op. cit. 260.

64. John E. Knodel, The Decline of Fertility in Germany, 1871-1939 (Princeton, 1974), 69-70; Nathan Keyfitz and Wilhelm Flieger, Population: Facts and Methods of Demography (San Francisco, 1971), 56; David Gaukey, Demography. The Study of Human Population (New York, 1985), 194; Patrick Festy, La fecondite des pays occidentaux de 1870 a 1970 (Paris, 1979), 88-106.

65. This effect of birth control was first described by John Demos, "Oedipus and America: Historical Perspectives on the Reception of Psychoanalysis in the United States," The Annual of Psychoanalysis VI (1978): 29-30.

66. Leo Tolstoi, Kreutzer Sonata (Berlin, 1890), 73.

67. Strindberg, Spoksonaten, 209.

68. Henry James, What Maisie Knew (Harmondsworth, 1966), 55.

69. The proof that this was no mere literary convenience is Frank Wedekind's Spring Awakening with its ten finely individualized children. Fittingly, only one of those children is known to have a sibling, while the little heroine takes charity to "working-class families with too many children."

70. This may be because the precocious decline of French marital fertility c. 1780-1835, unlike the Europe-wide decline that began in the 1870s, was of the traditional European sort insofar as it tended to keep the national net reproduction rate close to unity in the face of a uniquely abrupt drop in French mortality from the 1780s to the 1820s: see E. A. Wrigley, "The fall of marital fertility in nineteenth-century France: Exemplar or exception?" European Journal of Population I (1985): 31-60 and 141-77, especially 51-52, 54-56, 172-73 (reprinted in Wrigley, People, 270-321).

71. Generalized marital birth control in America, which began in the eighteenth century, differed fundamentally from its European counterpart in not being a defense against overpopulation.

72. Further, Ibsen and Wedekind each had five siblings, Tolstoi four, Butler three, Shaw and Hauptmann two apiece, and Maupassant one; Hauptmann had two marriages and Tolstoi, Zola, Ibsen, and Wedekind one each; Strindberg had four children from his first marriage and two from his third, Hauptmann three from a first marriage and two from a second, Wedekind two and Ibsen one from a single marriage each.

73. For that pagan premise: Beryl Rawson, "The Roman Family" in Beryl Rawson, ed., The Family in Ancient Rome (London, 1986), 9-12. For the Christian sequel: Christine Klapisch-Zuber, "La famille medievale" in Dupaquier et al., I, 479-89.

74. Helene Bergues et al., La prevention des, naissances dans la famille. Ses origines dans les temps modernes, Travaux et documents de l'Institut National d'Etudes Demographiques, cahier numero 35 (Paris, 1960), 203-05, 247-51, and passim.

75. For some emphatic Tuscan exceptions in the fifteenth century see Herlihy and Klapisch-Zuber, 440-42.

76. Bergues, passim.

77. Tolstoi, 108.
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Author:Binion, Rudolph
Publication:Journal of Social History
Date:Jun 22, 1994
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