Date of this Version
Great Plains Quarterly Vol. 29, No. 4, Fall 2009, pp. 327-328
Sarah Carter's The Importance of Being Monogamous is a timely study of Canada's efforts at the turn of the twentieth century to impose monogamy on its western frontier in communities long used to fur trade marriage by the custom of the country. Today the status of plural marriages is a contentious issue facing some jurisdictions in North America, including British Columbia. Some European societies have also struggled with the legal issues stemming from migration from regions where polygamy is firmly grounded in both faith and law. Carter's new book offers a rich, well-documented historical context for those involved in such challenging areas of public policy.
The study's main argument is that Canada made concerted efforts after Confederation to establish in the West a new "gendered space" for a "white manly world," largely by insisting on a nineteenth-century Christian definition of marriage as the union of a man and a woman for life, thus limiting the public place of women. The book is remarkable for its extensive use of such primary sources as court and mission records, government documents, newspapers, and private papers. The analysis pays attention not only to policy intent but also to the complexities of administering such newly intrusive policies in communities of both new settlers and Aboriginal people.