i thought he was just being french

in The Explanation of Ideology, emmanuel todd said about the russians [pgs. 35-36]:

“This distinctive characteristic [husband and wife being of very similar age] in the make-up of the Russian family has been confirmed by recent historical and statistical studies of the local censuses of the first half of the nineteenth century. In 1849 in one district of Great Russia close to Riazan, the average age difference between husband and wife was only 0.6 years. In the domain of Mishino which forms part of this district the age difference between marriage partners was 1.7 years in 1814; but most significantly 43 per cent of the women were older than their husbands. At the same date 78 per cent of households (or domestic units) represented the ‘ideal’ form of community family: that is they brought together under the same roof several married couples, parents and adult children. The average age of men at marriage being around twenty suggests the cohabitation of fathers-in-law aged from forty to forty-five with daughters-in-law between twenty and twenty-five married to husbands who were slightly younger. This peculiar demographic equilibrium permits the development of the traditional syndrome of Russian culture, incest between father-in-law and daughter-in-law, which is expressed with feeling in popular stories familiar to nineteenth-century folklorists and mentioned in Friedrich Engles in ‘The Origin of the Family, Private Property, and the State.’ Father-son rivalry appears, transposed and watered down, in Turgenev’s ‘First Love….'”

when i first read that i thought, ok, todd is letting his … ooo la la … french imagination get away with him. but now yesterday evening i read something in Peasant Farming in Muscovy that might support his “scenarios” [pg. 81]:

“Early marriage was usual. In 1410 metropolitan Fotii instructed his subordinates not to marry a girl of less than twelve, ‘but marry her when she enter her thirteenth year.’ In 1758 Daniel Printz noted that many girls married before puberty, at age ten, and boys at twelve or fifteen. An early seventeenth-century document regarded marriage as normal for female slaves at eighteen, for males at twenty and for a young widow two years after the death of the husband…. An Englishman in Russia about a century later than this commented that ‘they marry very young in that countrey, sometimes when neither the Bride nor the Bridegroom are thirteen Years of Age’. This may well be an exaggeration for the marjority of marriages, but the fact of early marriage seems well established. This indeed appears to be a characteristic pattern for Eastern Europe and has survived into modern times…. A further indication of early marriage is to be found in the fact that there are at least three variant forms of a term indicating a man who has an illicit relationship with his daughter-in-law. The terms snokhar’, snokhach and snochnik (cp. snokha, daughter-in-law) may indicate differences in such a relationship but also show it was once fairly widespread. The Metropolitan’s Justice, a law code dating perhaps from the end of the fifteenth or from the sixteenth century, though based on earlier materials, continued to lay down a fine of 100 grivnas for this relationship, the same as for two brothers sharing one woman; these were the highest fines; bestiality, on the other hand, was cheap at 12 grivnas. One way of attempting to adjust the land-labour ratio given a shortage of hands would be to marry off a young son to an adult but young female; this would account for the custom being fairly widespread. In such cases the wife would live with her husband’s family and an adult worker was added to the farm; sexual relations between father and daughter-in-law were, as it were, a bonus which lasted until the young son became sexually mature.8

“Footnote no. 8: In Bosnia such a custom continued into the twentieth century (personal communication of Professor Dubic).”

wait. what?!

i have to wonder what “fairly widespread” means (don’t go there) — how common were these “incestuous” affairs? and by incestuous, todd means canonically incestuous … unless the father-in-law is also the daughter-in-law’s uncle…!

how common were these incestuous affairs — and was it common/uncommon that children were produced by them? ’cause if they were, the family relationships get very kentuckian. i mean, if the daughter-in-law has, say, one kid by her father-in-law(/uncle?) and then the rest of her kids by her husband(/cousin?), then the eldest sibling is both half-sibling AND uncle/aunt(/second cousins?) to his/her brothers/sisters(/first cousins once removed?). good grief!

and it’s too late in the evening for me to even think about what such family structures might do to the evolution of altruism in these populations, or what they might mean for the inclusive fitness-related behaviors of all the actors in question.

and, once again, the (sometimes very) young ages of marriage in medieval and rather modern russia are markedly different from ages of marriage in northwestern europe. probably ’cause of the lack of manorialism in medieval russia.

(note: comments do not require an email. i want to go here. i really want to go there! kizhi pogost.)

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10 Comments

  1. “i have to wonder what “fairly widespread” means (don’t go there)”

    i wouldn’t have even thought of it if your comment hadn’t brought it up (don’t go there).

    Reply

  2. Whoa, this is a bit more complex than mere inbreeding. I wonder if Russia has or had elevated levels of filicide/patricide.

    Reply

  3. Interestingly the pattern of early vs late birth (and presumably, somewhat earlier vs later marriage) in Eastern vs Western Europe continues to this day, as seen here (along with a treasure trove of other interesting data). While rising rather rapidly for all European countries, the age of the first child shows a pattern that more or less goes Western -> Southern -> Eastern, from latest to earliest.

    Also interesting is that the countries with the most abysmal fertility rates are in Eastern and Southern Europe. NW Europe seems to be doing comparatively well (but still sub-replacement); although I’m not sure how much of that is due to higher births among the native populations vs births among immigrant populations.

    Reply

  4. @ihtg – “Whoa, this is a bit more complex than mere inbreeding.”

    bit crazy, huh? russian soap operas must be a lot of fun to watch! (~_^)

    @ihtg – I wonder if Russia has or had elevated levels of filicide/patricide.”

    would be interesting to know.

    Reply

  5. @spandrell – “Finally this is getting interesting. I might have to buy the book.”

    heh. (^_^) well, i quoted all the juicy bits from both books — todd’s and Peasant Farming in Muscovy. actually, no — i haven’t read all of the Muscovy book, so there could be more racey stuff in there. (~_^)

    Reply

  6. @jayman – “as seen here (along with a treasure trove of other interesting data)”

    oh, cool! thanks for the link. (^_^)

    @jayman – “Also interesting is that the countries with the most abysmal fertility rates are in Eastern and Southern Europe. NW Europe seems to be doing comparatively well (but still sub-replacement)…”

    that seems upside-down. i mean, i believe you — but you’d think the early breeders should have better fertility rates than the late breeders, not vice versa. wonder what’s going on there?

    @jayman – “…although I’m not sure how much of that is due to higher births among the native populations vs births among immigrant populations.”

    yes, that is the question. =/

    there was a report out a year or two ago that the birth rate in france had gone up and the increase was due to an increase in native french births (unless they were counting first-generation+ immigrants as “french”). so, a little bit of good news from france, maybe. sorry, i don’t have a source at hand right now — just babbling on based on memory.

    Reply

  7. but you’d think the early breeders should have better fertility rates than the late breeders, not vice versa. wonder what’s going on there?

    I have this old NYT article saved that talks about this, just thought I’d throw it out there…They interview a bunch of Italians about this question:

    Many more, though, see the reduction of family sizes as the result of an assertiveness among women who, having tasted independence by going out to work, do not want to lose it.

    By this account, the men — who once equated procreation with virility, but now prefer cash in their pocket to children in the crib — have simply gone along with the women’s decision.

    What it all boils down to, said Franca Fossati, editor of a feminist magazine called Noi Donne — We Women — is that “the women have changed very quickly” after the expansion of schooling and urbanization while “the men haven’t” in certain ways.

    “So there’s very little division of domestic work between men and women,” she said. “Working as well as looking after the house makes it virtually impossible to have a family. Having few children is a form of female self-defense.”

    No data to back it up, but it makes sense in a way–women have always freer in N. than S. Europe, even pre-birth control. When that magic pill came, maybe Latin women really did have more of a reason to choose career over motherhood.
    .
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    re: Russian daughter-in-law incest, wooooow….never heard of that and as you say, god knows what that could have ended up doing to the relatedness picture in village society. I would like to read more about that.

    Reply

  8. @m.g. – “No data to back it up, but it makes sense in a way–women have always freer in N. than S. Europe, even pre-birth control. When that magic pill came, maybe Latin women really did have more of a reason to choose career over motherhood.”

    yes, that’s an interesting thought. maybe nw european women, being freer, already had men who were more of partners in helping to raise a family — or, at least, they were predisposed personality-wise to step into that role when the pill came and the 60s and women’s “liberation” and all that … but, perhaps, southern and eastern european men were too macho (or whatever you want to call it), so southern and eastern europen women leaned towards reducing their total number of children ’cause they didn’t have men who would help with the cleaning and the cooking and whatever. not that i like the idea of stay-at-home-dads very much, but if you can’t adapt to new circumstances, whatever they may be, you’re going to lose out.

    @m.g. – “Russian daughter-in-law incest, wooooow….never heard of that….”

    yeah, me neither! and when i read it in todd’s book last year i kinda dismissed it thinking, yeah, yeah … typical french sorta thoughts. (~_^) but when i came across it again in this other source i thought … uh oh.

    i should maybe try to put this in context ’cause i’ve read about other sorts of “wife sharing” scenarios in other societies. i’ve read many times that second and third wives in places like afghanistan are often shared by several of the brothers in one household. and i’ve read something before about fathers having the right to the “first night” in some traditional african societies, but lord knows which ones those are.

    @m.g. – “…god knows what that could have ended up doing to the relatedness picture in village society.”

    makes it more complicated, anyway!

    Reply

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