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Early German Feminist Criticism of Marriage: Louise Otto, "Marriage in the Countryside" (1851)

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If a farmer wants to get married, either the thought occurred to him only after being persuaded by an ‘agent,’ or he had it first and then sought out an agent. The former case is the more common. – These agents are men, mostly of dubious reputation, such as failed merchants, grain brokers, usurers, and so on, and live for the most part in small towns with larger villages close by. Here they travel from one village to the next, visit one holding after another under all kinds of pretexts, and seek to discover in detail the situation of the young people; then they suggest to a farmer, father or son, a suitable girl for the latter, and if the young farmer is not opposed, the agent goes to the girl’s parents. In most cases the two people destined for each other are complete strangers. When it comes to the girl, the agent inquires about assets, a dowry, and the arrangements regarding the farm holding– then he provides the same information about his client keen to get married. If the girl and the parents are not opposed, the agent soon reappears in their house with the suitor and introduces him. The parents on both sides negotiate the rest and the agent receives his fee in cash. A short time later the wedding takes place.

This is the kind of commercial contract marriage is in the countryside.
Not a word of hearts and emotions.

It may well be that this is also done in the cities often enough – yet the crudeness, which here does not even seek a gentler cover, insults the moral sensibility even more. In the countryside, there is not even an effort to get to know each another – there is only a look at the other person and then a weighing of the situation of each.

In this regard the girls are just as indelicate and unfeeling as the men. For the most part they are thinking only of money in order to satisfy their mania for finery, or they get married merely out of vanity, to get a husband quickly and be a bride, so that they ‘no longer have to show up alone’ at the balls, as they themselves put it.

Source: Louise Otto, "Die Heirat auf dem Lande," Frauen-Zeitung, vol. 3, no. 26 (July 5, 1851), p. 171f.

Original German text reprinted in Margrit Twellmann, Die Deutsche Frauenbewegung im Spiegel repräsentativer Frauenzeitschriften. Ihre Anfänge und erste Entwicklung. Quellen, 1843-1889. Meisenheim am Glan: A. Hain, 1972, pp. 87-88.

Translation: Thomas Dunlap

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