Thursday, January 27, 2011

Phallic Swords of Damocles

My friend Alyssa Rosenberg highlights one respect in which historical fiction, written and filmed, almost always fails:
I think one thing that most movies set in the semi-Medieval through Victorian eras don't really get at is the absolute horror of arranged marriages. Sure, sometimes they worked out, and you ended up with someone you'd come to love, or at least live companionably with. But can you imagine being married off to someone forty or fifty years older than you? Someone who had absolutely no interest in you except for raping you? Who ignored you altogether? Who physically abused you? And all in a world where there were no resources [for] you, much less any concept of choice in the matter?

I can't, really, and I imagine most contemporary writers can't either.
Even if you were not forcibly wed or if your forced marriage turned out relatively well, the fact of being married to someone meant that he could demand sex at any time and you were obligated to acquiesce---sex that could lead to a life-threatening premodern pregnancy and childbirth. That these circumstances did not result in a subjective experience of constant terror for their victims makes them no less morally horrifying.
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