During the last few decades the study of the family has flourished, and in the process many myths about what life was like two or three centuries ago have been debunked. For example, contrary to popular belief, we now know that most women in the preindustrial West did not marry before they were twenty-five. Most households consisted of no more than four or five people, usually including unrelated young people working as servants. And perhaps most surprising of all, multigenerational households were not very common. Pulling together much fascinating information about the family in the preindustrial Western world, Beatrice Gottlieb presents every aspect of this rich subject with clarity and fairness. Her generously illustrated book deals with the households of the wealthy and the poor, courtship and marriage, the care and training of children, and the bonds (and strains) of kinship. The matter of inheritance receives special attention, as it played a substantial role in a world permeated by rank and status, and its importance gave the family a peculiar social and economic significance. With a focus on the ordinary people whose everyday lives strike a responsive chord in all of us, as well as brief appearances by famous people and important events in history--Henry VIII's divorce, Benjamin Franklin's apprenticeship to his brother, and Mary Wollstonecraft's death in childbirth--this remarkable, eminently readable work brings to vivid life the wives and husbands, servants and masters, children and parents of a not too distant past.
"Gottlieb has done the reading public a great service by distilling the immense body of research on Western society's family structure into an eminently readable and intriguing narrative. Her clear synthesis helps us picture the past more accurately, free of the wishfulness of myth and the concocted ideals about allegedly 'traditional' families and family values....An invaluable resource."--Booklist
"A well-researched and readable study of the family in the Western World....Overturns popular myths about families from an earlier time."--Publishers Weekly
"I enjoyed every minute of reading this book, and I was impressed on almost every page by Gottlieb's skill in sorting through a vast and complex literature....It is a book in the best traditions of history--a book that makes an arcane scholarly endeavor accessible to the general reader. In many senses, this is a real triumph."--Judith Bennett, University of North Carolina, author of Women in the Medieval English Countryside
"Nowhere does one find so much interesting information about the early modern family pulled together with such clarity and fairness and presented in such a way as to be of interest to scholar and layperson alike. Ms. Gottlieb elucidates the larger issues over which scholars argue and she tells the story of the family in an appealing way."--Steven Ozment, Harvard University
"Lead[s] students and the general reader through the minefields of historical controversy that encircle the discipline. This Gottlieb does with elegance and aplomb....A seductively clear guide to familial experience in the early modern period."--Times Literary Supplement
"The author's superb writing style and the book's organization make this accessible to a wide audience."--John Rosser, KLIATT