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Exploring different facets of love in eight history books [reading list]

As Valentine’s Day approaches, we’ve curated a special reading list that considers the complexities of love, society, and human interaction. These recent history titles promise to captivate heart and mind and offer a journey through time that goes beyond roses and chocolates. From a powerful Roman couple to courtship in Georgian England, this Valentine’s Day inspired reading list is sure to ignite your intellectual ardor.

1. Love and the Working Class: The Inner Worlds of Nineteenth Century Americans

Cover of Love and the Working Class: The Inner Worlds of Nineteenth Century Americans by Karen Lystra

Love and the Working Class is a unique look at the emotions of hard-living, nineteenth-century Americans who were often on the cusp of literacy. These laboring folk highly valued letters and, however difficult it was, wrote to stay connected to those they loved. Using letters written to parents, siblings, husbands, wives, friends, and potential mates between 1830 and 1880, Karen Lystra identifies the shared conceptions of love and practices of courtship and marriage within a racially diverse population of free working-class people born in America.

Buy Love and the Working Class: The Inner Worlds of Nineteenth Century Americans by Karen Lystra

2. Being Single in Georgian England: Families, Households, and the Unmarried

Using a micro-historical approach, Amy Harris covers three generations of the famous musical and abolitionist Sharp family. The Sharps’ exceptional closeness and good humor consistently shines through as their experiences reveal how eighteenth-century families navigated gender and age hierarchies, marital choices, and household governance. The importance of childhood relationships and the life-long nature of siblinghood stand out as central aspects of Sharp family life, no matter their marital status.

Buy Being Single in Georgian England Families, Households, and the Unmarried by Amy Harris

3. The Game of Love in Georgian England: Courtship, Emotions, and Material Culture

The Game of Love in Georgian England: Courtship, Emotions, and Material Culture by Sally Holloway

If you want to find out more about love in Georgian England, Sally Holoway’s The Game of Love in Georgian England explores courtship as a decisive moment in a person’s life cycle; imagined as a tactical game, an invigorating sport, and a perilous journey across a turbulent sea. The book brings to life the emotional experience of courtship using the words and objects selected by men and women to navigate this potentially fraught process.

Buy The Game of Love in Georgian England: Courtship, Emotions, and Material Culture by Sally Holloway

4. The Emergence of a Hero: A Tale of Romantic Love in Russia around 1800

Cover of The Emergence of a Hero: A Tale of Romantic Love in Russia around 1800 by Andrei Zorin, translated Leo Shtutin

Dedicated to the history of Russian emotional culture of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, The Emergence of a Hero centers around the life and death of Andrei Turgenev (1781-1803), the author of a confessional diary, a gifted poet, and an early Russian Romantic who failed to live up to the principles and models he cherished.

Buy The Emergence of a Hero: A Tale of Romantic Love in Russia around 1800 by Andrei Zorin, translated Leo Shtutin

5. Sex in an Old Regime City: Young Workers and Intimacy in France, 1660-1789

Cover of Sex in an Old Regime City: Young Workers and Intimacy in France, 1660-1789 by Julie Hardwick

Our ideas about the long histories of young couples’ relationships and women’s efforts to manage their reproductive health are often premised on the notion of a powerful sexual double standard. Here, Julie Hardwick offers a major reframing of the history of young people’s intimacy. Based on legal records from the city of Lyon, she uncovers the relationships of young workers before marriage and after pregnancy occurred, even if marriage did not follow, and finds that communities treated these occurrences without stigmatizing or moralizing.

Buy Sex in an Old Regime City: Young Workers and Intimacy in France, 1660-1789 by Julie Hardwick

6. Love at Last Sight: Dating, Intimacy, and Risk in Turn-of-the-Century Berlin by Tyler Carrington

Cover of Love at Last Sight by Tyler Carrington

Love at Last Sight examines the risk associated with modern approaches to dating and finding love in the turn-of-the-century metropolis. Using newspapers, diaries, police records, and court cases, it reveals the strangers, swindlers, and traditional middle-class values that threatened single people looking for intimacy in new ways. For most men and women, using modern technologies to seek romance—making an acquaintance on the street, pursuing a missed connection from a streetcar, or paying for a matchmaking service or personal ad—meant putting one’s livelihood, respectability, and life on the line.

Buy Love at Last Sight: Dating, Intimacy, and Risk in Turn-of-the-Century Berlin by Tyler Carrington

7. Belisarius & Antonina: Love and War in the Age of Justinian

Cover of Belisarius & Antonina by David Alan Parsell

Belisarius and Antonina were titans in the Roman world some 1,500 years ago. Belisarius was the most well-known general of his age, victor over the Persians, conqueror of the Vandals and the Goths, and as if this were not enough, wealthy beyond imagination. His wife, Antonina, made a name for herself by traveling with Belisarius on his military campaigns, deposing a pope, and scheming to disgrace important Roman officials. Together, the pair were extremely influential, and arguably wielded more power in the late Roman world than anyone except the emperor Justinian and empress Theodora themselves.

Buy Belisarius & Antonina: Love and War in the Age of Justinian by David Alan Parnell

8. Love, Madness, and Scandal: The Life of Frances Coke Villiers, Viscountess Purbeck

Cover of Love, Madness and Scandal by Johanna Luthman

The high society of Stuart England found Frances Coke Villiers, Viscountess Purbeck (1602-1645) an exasperating woman. She lived at a time when women were expected to be obedient, silent, and chaste, but Frances displayed none of these qualities. On one level a thrilling tale of love and sex, kidnapping and elopement, the life of Frances Coke Villiers is also the story of an exceptional woman, whose personal experiences intertwined with the court politics and religious disputes of a tumultuous and crucially formative period in English history.

Buy Love, Madness, and Scandal: The Life of Frances Coke Villiers, Viscountess Purbeck by Johanna Luthman

Feature image: Hearts Bokeh Photography by Rachel Walker. Public domain via Unsplash.

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