Great Expectations: Marriage and Divorce in Post-Victorian America

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During the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the divorce rate in the United States rose by a staggering 2,000 percent. To understand this dramatic rise, Elaine Tyler May studied over one thousand detailed divorce cases. She found that contrary to common assumptions, divorce was not simply a by-product of women's increasing economic and sexual independence, or a rebellion against marriage. Rather, thwarted hopes for fulfillment in the public sphere drove both men and women to wed at a greater rate and to bring higher expectations to their marriages.