Buying and Selling Spouses

There’s an attention-grabber of a title, eh?

It’s a continuation of Marie Brennan’s essays about marriage, over at Book View Cafe: Buying and Selling Spouses

One of the ways to view a dowry’s function is that it “purchases” a husband for the daughter, and as with anything else, the more money you have, the better a product you can buy….The inverse of dowry is bride price or bridewealth: the groom or his family transferring property or wealth to the bride’s family. Sometimes this is again a form of financial security for the bride, but in other situations it’s very much not, depending on whether her family is expected to return the bride price in the event of the marriage failing. It also theoretically demonstrates the husband’s ability to support a wife….Then there’s dower — which, despite the similarity of sound, is not the same thing as dowry. It’s more akin to bride price, in that it’s a payment made by the groom, but in this case it goes directly to the bride herself, rather than to her family.

Much more at the link.

Of course we get dowries and other financial arrangements all over the place in historical novels, from, oh, Catherine Called Birdy to the very specific financial and property arrangements underlying Niccolo’s marriage to his employer in Niccolo Rising.

How often do we see that kind of thing in fantasy (pretty often, I’m sure — oh, sure, remember how Tremaine married Ilias in the Ile-Rien trilogy) or science fiction (seems less likely there).

Or I thought probably the trope was unusual in SF, until a moment of googling showed me that the “alien’s mail-order bride” is actually a pretty popular trope. Who knew?

This one — called, yes, The Alien’s Mail-Order Bride — actually sounds kind of charming:

Though still carrying the scars of his past as an intergalactic soldier, Emvor doesn’t mind the quiet of his chosen life as a farmer. He doesn’t even mind that most nights are lonely on remote Cassa, but he does need help around his farm. A mail-order bride from his homeworld seems like the perfect solution. She’ll be a tall, sturdy female to help with the chores and bear his children.

Unfortunately, the person that arrives is Nicola. She’s small, delicate … and human. She also knows nothing about farming, and she’s lied and deceived her way across the galaxy to get to Cassa so she can hide from those that would capture her. She’s a problem, and also the most enticing thing he’s ever seen.

Now Emvor has to decide … can he keep the woman who’s nothing like what he asked for but is everything he needs?

I gather from the first comment at Goodreads that this is the first book in a specific mail-order bride series shared among four different authors. Well, I wouldn’t have guessed this would be a thing, but I guess it’s a thing.

Obviously there are all kinds of unpleasant directions to take this idea of handling the financial aspects of marriage — that mail-order bride thing is only charming in the right kind of fiction — but one could certainly check out historical patterns of dowries and brideprice and so on, and then come up with something a little less historical and possibly a little more interesting. Like . . . I don’t know . . .

1) You can’t buy a spouse, but you can buy property and the spouse comes with the property. Like the way serfs were bound to the land, only different.

2) You can’t buy a spouse — buying people, no way! — but you and your wife have to bank a certain amount of money before you are allowed to have children. I assume potential spouses with that kind of wealth would be more attractive prospects.

3) You can’t buy a spouse outright, but you can buy an option. Remember how Kareen Koudelka wanted an option on Mark Vorkosigan in A Civil Campaign? Like that.

4) You can totally buy a spouse, but your spouse can divorce you by throwing the money back in your face and walking out.

5) Aren’t there customs where the bridegroom “kidnaps” the bride — one hopes just symbolically, but probably based on reality some of the time. That would be one way around too-rigid dowry customs.

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1 thought on “Buying and Selling Spouses”

  1. Most cultures where the bridegroom can kidnap the bride are ones where “she consented” is not a defense against the charges.

    Of rape, usually, which did, after all, originally mean kidnap.

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