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History 342a - Magdalena Paper

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Skylar St. Paul Holdman

Dr. Workman        

History 342A

10 September 2017

Breaking the Norm

        In Magdalena and Balthasar: An Intimate Portrait of Life in 16th Century Europe Revealed in the Letters of a Nuremberg Husband and Wife by Steven Ozment, Magdalena herself does confirm some of  Merry E. Wiesner’s generalizations about women of the early modern period in Europe but she also does not in most instances. Magdalena breaks the normal social and marital standard for women during the early modern Europe, yet what if she did not have her husband? While doing so she is sure to still maintain her integrity within her social class given to her through her husband as an outlet..  Magdalena’s life experiences confirm and call into question Wiesner’s generalizations about women of the early modern period in Europe.

        First and foremost, in Women and Gender in Early Modern Europe, Wiesner describes the generalized lifestyle and life cycle that women were essentially forced to follow. If a women did not obey by the set generalizations then the woman in most situations was seen as impure. A woman's lifestyle typically was not seen in the same light as a man’s lifestyle was at this point in history. During this time period there was a start of a transition away from medieval viewpoints into giving power to the state. Now you must ask, what is the life cycle of a woman? A life cycle of a woman was to be a daughter and then a wife, and once she is a wife she must become a mother. The transition away from medieval was big in terms of how women were regarded in sense of respect and endearment. Laws and customs pretty much shaped society in early modern Europe, “ideas of educated men spread to vast majority of women and men who could not record their own ideas, and served as the basis for law codes which attempted to regulate behavior,” this is proven so in letters between Magdalena and Balthasar (pg 10). Although this began the separation of the medieval standpoints and the power was given to the state, the laws were very much similar to German law codes as well. This meant that generally a woman was held criminally responsible for their actions that went against the law, and were even held accountable for their husbands crimes and punished for them as well.

Moreover, this is where we begin to see the double standard that played a major role during this time period. In the Medieval period women were given a secondary position when it came to their legal status, which then changes during the Renaissance. Wesiner mentions something that essentially deems women a man's property and had zero say when it comes to all things legal, “ A married woman was legally subject to her husband in all things…” (pg 31).This is then seen different further in the text as Wiesner goes on to mention the slight sense of control women had when it is mentioned that if the man were to break their marriage contract that the women gets the choice of who controls her dowry thereafter. The little amount of rights women did have were extremely restricted and even prohibited them from being able to travel within their own desires.

Essentially, men had all the power. With this power it meant honor or even bravery, these traits were extremely important in keeping one's manhood. In Magdalena and Balthasar, there are difference that come with every similarity shared with Wiesner’s standpoint on women during this time period.

No doubt, Magdalena broke the standard for what was seen as normal during this time. According to Wiesner, it was extremely rare that marriage actually resulted in compassion after the arrangement was formally made. Two families would arrange for their children to be married based off the woman's dowry and the man's need to gain vast amounts of land and riches. Magdalena and Balthasar were no exception to this idea, yet from what we can tell from the letters the two really did love each other and cared about the wellbeing of not just theirself but also the others.

Similarly, Magdalena and Balthasar shared a shared a relationship much similar to relationships you would see in today's generation. In their first letters, the two complain about the time it is taking for the other to reply to their letters. Balthasar even mentions how he remained home all day waiting for her letter assuming she would have written right away after she received his letter, “...anticipating it, I did not leave the house the entire day” (pg 29).  In our day and age, we tend to depend on our significant other to text back via a cellular device, although not the same way of communication it is the same level of desperation.

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