Renowned German social historian Heide Wunder refers to the cosmic image contained in the 1578 Book of Marital Discipline that characterizes the relationship between husband and wife. Today, "He is the sun, she is the moon" might be interpreted as a hierarchy of dominance and subordination. At the time it was used, however, sun and moon reflected the different but equal status of husband and wife.
Wunder shows how the history of women and the history of gender relations can provide crucial insights into how societies organize themselves and provide resources for political action. She observes actual circumstances as well as the normative rules that were supposed to guide women's lives. We learn what skills were necessary to take charge of households, what people ate, how they furnished their homes, what birth control measures were available, what role women played in peasant protest. Wunder finds that, in addition to the history of losses and setbacks for women observed by so many current interpreters, there is a history of gains as well. The regency of noble women was normal, as was the shared responsibility of wife and husband in a peasant household, an artisan's workshop, or a merchant's business.
Using sources as diverse as memoirs, wedding and funeral sermons, novels, and chronicles, and including a wealth of demographic information, Wunder reveals a surprising new image of early modern women and provides a richer interpretation of early modern Europe.
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