A sensitive study of sibling love and hatred that burns with anger against the abuses of the pastIf the past is a foreign country, as LP Hartley observed in The Go-Between, it is also one whose inhabitants are divided from us by a common language. The sense of any familiar word – even those words we believe are the bedrock of human existence, such as “love”, “marriage” or “death” – may have changed almost out of recognition. In a comfortable Wiltshire household 150 years ago, death could not be thought of as something far-off, timetabled to arrive after a hearty three score years and 10. The soul must be kept in good order, because the flesh that cased it might dissolve any day. Babies regularly succumbed to overwhelming infections. Women routinely died in childbirth. Second and third marriages, step-parenting and “blended” families were commonplace, but the cause was death, not divorce. Children knew what a corpse looked like and had probably seen a deathbed. As for the word “marriage”, to a woman of the mid-19th century, it meant the cessation of her own independent legal existence, and the transfer of her body and property to her husband’s possession. For a …read more

Via: The Guardian | Books