Claire Virginia Eby
Until Choice Do Us Part
Marriage Reform in the Progressive Era
University of Chicago Press 2014
Clare Virginia Eby is a professor of English at the University of Connecticut. In Until Choice Do Us Part: Marriage Reform in the Progressive Era (University of Chicago Press, 2014), Eby examines the origins of how we think of marriage through the theoretical and experimental reform of the institution in the progressive era. Marriage theorist such as Havelock Ellis, Elsie Clews Parson and Charlotte Perkins Gilman took up a critique of the economic for basis of marriage to advocate for a woman’s legal autonomy, erotic agency, and right to non-reproductive sexuality. Against a traditional model, they proposed an equalitarian one of mutual consent and affection. Marital reform ideals included breaking the economic dependency of women, rejecting the validation of marriage by church or state, voluntary monogamy, at will divorce, and mutual sexual satisfaction. The redefining personal relationship, as a microcosm of society, was a means to reforming society as a whole, and an educational process carried through a variety of writing reaching a larger reading public. In addition to the theorists, Eby examines the lives and writing of three literary couples who experimented with the new ideal; Upton and Meta Fuller Sinclair, Theodore and Sara White Dreiser, and Neith Boyce and Hutchins Hapgood. Examples of literary works that explored new forms of marriage included Sinclair’s Love’s Pilgrimage (1911), Theodore Dreiser’s The Genius (1915) and Neith Boyce’s The Bond (1908). These works took up the themes of open marriages, sexual variety, emotional compatibility, dual careers, and the end of love in divorce. Until Choice Do Us Part provides insight into our contemporary marriage patterns and the tension between love and freedom that remains.