Searching the Heart: Women, Men, and Romantic Love in Nineteenth-Century America

Karen Lystra, Author Oxford University Press, USA $30 (352p) ISBN 978-0-19-505817-8
This eminently readable scholarly study draws on archival evidence from the love letters of more than 100 Americans to reveal that, however reserved their public behavior, middle-class couples of the Victorian era valued and sought emotional and physical intimacy in private. Lystra, assistant professor at California State University, unveils a world of sentiment shielded by an epistolary veil in which a couple could display their ``true'' selves while developing, testing and celebrating their shared commitment. According to her research, the ideal of romantic love served to blur gender roles as lovers strove for mutual sympathy. The author goes beyond letters to investigate the effect of romantic love on marriage, on sex roles in society and on American religious sensibilities. Readers will pore over the copious endnotes and the bibliography of medical and advice manuals of the period, which add interesting details to Lystra's account of the public and private spheres of Victorian sexuality. (Nov.)
Reviewed on: 11/01/1989
Release date: 11/01/1989
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