Liberalism in the Bedroom

Liberalism in the Bedroom

Quarreling Spouses in Nineteenth-Century Lima

By Christine Hunefeldt

Penn State University Press, Library Binding, 9780271019352, 408pp.

Publication Date: January 2000


This book tells the story of how ordinary Peruvian men and women experienced their lives, and especially their marriages, in a patriarchal society and how, through the struggles involved in divorce, women tried to defend their rights and in the process helped bring about change in society more broadly.

Careful examination of more than one thousand cases of conjugal suits filed in Lima's archbishopric, as well as wills in notarial records, allowed the author to trace over time quarreling spouses' relationships, attitudes, and perceptions of gender, life cycle, race, and class and to study their evolving moral expectations and the varying pace of social change.

The history of this marital dialogue reveals the construction of a new terminology, based on liberal ideas imported from England and France, that found its way into domestic life and influenced how conflicts were perceived and resolved. Far from opening doors for women, liberalism maintained women's inferior status but also shifted the ground on which women waged battles for survival.

By the end of the nineteenth century, many women had concluded that basic patriarchal and Christian arrangements were a sham, and they sought ways to cope within a system rife with hypocrisy. This book shows how women and children, made destitute by intimate tyranny, challenged this tyranny by finding new means of defense and social support.

About the Author
Christine Hunefeldt is Associate Professor of History at the University of California, San Diego. She contributed to The Peruvian Labyrinth (1997) and is the author of Paying the Price of Freedom: Family and Labor Among Lima's Slaves, 1800 1854 (1994).