BELOVED STRANGERS: Interfaith Families in Nineteenth-Century America

Anne C. Rose, Author . Harvard Univ. $39.95 (304p) ISBN 978-0-674-00640-9

Penn State's Rose shows that interfaith marriage is nothing new; here, she charts the practice from the War of 1812 to World War I, introducing readers to over two dozen intermarried couples. We meet politicians (North Carolina governor Zebulon Vance married a Catholic), the children of religious leaders (Helen Wise, the daughter of Rabbi Isaac Wise, married a Christian) and ordinary intermarried folk. Rose treats marriages that were interfaith from day one and, even more intriguing, also those marriages in which Protestant wives shocked their Protestant husbands by converting to Catholicism. She pays careful attention to how intermarriage was discussed—by pastors, journalists and novelists (Charles Brockden Brown's Arthur Mervyn was the first American novel to tackle intermarriage). In the mid-19th century, Rose shows, those who opposed intermarriage did so on religious grounds; by the fin de siècle, critics of intermarriage often based their arguments in ethnicity and race. The book is heavy on description and light on analysis. What little interpretation Rose offers is anachronistic and cheerleaderish: those who intermarried, she affirms, were courageous early champions of pluralism and diversity. But whatever its flaws, this book is sure to find a sizable audience outside the academy. Not only did Rose hit upon a topic that will interest thousands of Americans, she has told the story of 19th-century intermarriage in crisp prose so accessible that Harvard ought to pass out copies to other scholars hoping to break out of the ivory tower. (Sept.)

Reviewed on: 07/30/2001
Release date: 10/01/2001
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Hardcover - 304 pages - 978-0-674-42309-1
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