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Sharing intimacies: men's stories of love and the divorce reform debates in mid-twentieth-century England

By Elinor Harper


This thesis explores the way in which people constructed their identities using the cultural, public and social narratives made available to them in mid-twentieth-century England. Focusing on the construction of masculinities, this study argues that, contrary to popular opinion, for many men during this period ontological narratives expanded beyond the ‘masculine’ discourses of politics, work and sport, to encompass ‘feminine’ discourses of family, home and romance. In the first section of this thesis the argument is advanced that ideal domesticity was promoted to men, just as it was to women, as integral to the construction of personal identity. As such, an exploration is undertaken of the ways in which discourses about family and home life incorporated men above and beyond a bread-winning role. Section two of this thesis argues that during these same decades romance became an overriding preoccupation for men and searching for a soul mate became a masculine pursuit of the utmost importance. The third section of this thesis looks at various attempts to bring these opposing discourses into a workable whole, concluding with a detailed examination of the divorce reform debates of the mid-twentieth century, and refuting the contention that divorce reform was fought for, and won, on behalf of women. Through an examination of the language and rhetoric expressed in a collection of private letters written by men during the 1960s, this study will demonstrate that men’s consumption of domestic and romantic narratives was as active and as enthusiastic as women’s, and that it was this participation which publicly altered perceptions of our most private relationships. By understanding historical processes in the context of narrative, and recognising men’s position within ‘feminine spaces’, this thesis claims that stories of domesticity, romance and divorce need to be retold

Topics: HQ, KD
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