The Making of a Family: Constructing Companionate Marriage in Nineteenth-Century Lyon
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During the nineteenth century, companionate marriage became a dominant marital model for the French bourgeoisie, but that ideal was poorly defined and became a point of contestation between spouses. This study focuses on Joseph and Fanny Bergier, a bourgeois couple from Lyon who created together an archive of journals and diaries spanning from 1800 to 1878. Their struggle with infertility forced them to confront the issue of what it meant to be a family and whether children were integrally necessary or if life as a couple was enough. Following a common male pattern, Joseph committed adultery, raising the issue of the place of fidelity in a companionate relationship. Their conflict over this issue, expressed in letters and diary entries, brought to light the divergence between their gendered expectations of what a companionate marriage should look like. The Bergiers' experience of infertility led them to cultivate fictive kinship networks through philanthropy and sociability. They also used ego writing as an alternative form of family creation. Their attempts to create a family through non-biological means suggests that, despite the concurrent drop in birth rate, children were crucially important to the French vision of family life. Their disagreements over how companionability should find expression, and what the rules governing a love-based marriage ought to be, show that the transition toward a modern family model was contested and uncertain.