Thicker than Water Siblings and their Relations, 1780-1920

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  • Edition: Reprint
  • Format: Paperback
  • Copyright: 2013-09-15
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press

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Brothers and sisters remain, for those that have them, an inextricable part of existence. In adult life they may never be in contact but they cannot be formally divorced. Brothers and sisters are frequently life's longest relationship. Yet until recently, historians have scarcely noticed.

Thicker than Water is a pioneering history of sibling relationships in the long nineteenth century, from the last decades of the eighteenth to the first decades of the twentieth. The principal focus is on Britain, the first major capitalist society, and its middle classes, who were at the core of the nascent new order. It was their extensive family networks that provided the capital, personnel, skills, and contacts crucial to the rapidly expanding commercial and professional enterprises of the Victorian era.

Davidoff examines what we know about sibling relationships at this time, before delving deeper, looking at their uses and meaning for British middle class families, how they operated within the economic, social, cultural, and religious constraints of their place and time, and how they changed as families became smaller from the end of the nineteenth century onwards.

The issues raised throughout the book are grounded in an exploration of some specific themes, sibling intimacy and incest, sibling death, as well as in case studies of famous sibling relationships, such as that between William Gladstone and his sisters, and a revealing account of the household relations of perhaps the most influential interpreter of personal and familial life in modern society, Sigmund Freud.

Author Biography

Leonore Davidoff is Research Professor, Department of Sociology, University of Essex

Table of Contents

Part I: Exploring Kin and their Kind
1. Kin and Family: Expert Opinions and Popular Views
2. Finding Siblings
Part II: The Lattice of Kinship: A Historical Case Study
3. The People and the Setting
4. The 'Long Family' and Its Decline
5. A Like Unlike: Siblings in Childhood and Youth
6. A Dance of Intimacy and Separation: Siblings in Adulthood
7. Forgotten Figures: Aunts, Uncles, Nieces, Nephews, and Cousins
Part III: Life's Longest Relationship: Essays on Sibling Themes
8. Sibling Intimacy and the Question of Incest
9. The Rise and Fall of Close Marriage
10. Gender, Age, and Authority: The case of Anne, William Ewart, and Helen Gladstone
11. Sibling Silences: The Freud Family
12. Sibling Loss

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