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Was Beowulf An Empty Nester?
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February 14, 2012, 03:07 PM
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HBD Chick has had some great posts. Here`s one on French anthropologist Emmanuel Todd`s seven types of family systems:

This is enormously complicated just for Europe alone. That`s one problem with cultural anthropology that isn`t really the anthropologists` fault: the subject matter is endlessly convoluted. (Of course, cultural anthropologists don`t help by resisting all attempts at reductionism.)

So let`s just focus on the yellow area, home to what Todd calls the "absolute nuclear family:"

1. Absolute Nuclear Family:  
a. Spouse selection: Free, but obligatory exogamy.  
b. Inheritance: Indifference - no precise rules, frequent use of wills.  
c. Family Home: no cohabitation of married children with their parents.  
d. Representative Nations, Peoples, Regions: Anglo-Saxon world, Holland, Denmark.  
e. Representative Ideology: Christianity, Capitalism, `Libertarian` Liberalism, and Feminism. 
For example, being an empty nester is a popular goal in Anglo-Saxon cultures, while striking lots of other peoples as sad and lonely.

The yellow area (southern Norway, Denmark, coastal Netherlands, England and Edinburgh) corresponds closely to the old Anglo-Saxon lands. (I don`t know about Brittany, though). And, indeed, this is the system dominant in what Todd calls the Anglo-Saxon countries today. One interesting question is: When did this start? I don`t think it`s visible yet in Beowulf, but I could be wrong. But it seemed to get going close to 1,000 years ago.

All this ties into Tory Cabinet minister David Willetts` portrait of the Deep Structure of being English:

"Instead, think of England as being like this for at least 750 years. We live in small families. We buy and sell houses. … Our parents expect us to leave home for paid work …You try to save up some money from your wages so that you can afford to get married. … You can choose your spouse … It takes a long time to build up some savings from your work and find the right person with whom to settle down, so marriage comes quite lately, possibly in your late twenties. "


The long-standing English aversion to arranged marriages reflects this distinction. It`s noteworthy that Shakespeare and his English audience sided with Romeo and Juliet against their kinfolk. Willetts theorizes:

"A small, simple family structure not driven by the need to pass on an inheritance or to sustain ties with brothers and cousins in a clan can be more personal, intense, and emotional—a clue to England`s Romantic tradition."


Willetts points out that most other languages have "specific words for particular types of uncles, grandparents, and cousins", but the English apparently never needed to develop these terms. As far back as 1014, he says, Bishop Wulfstan of London "expressed regret that vendettas were not what they used to be as family members just would not join in". (In contrast, the more clannish Scots kept alive kin-spirit, transmitting it down to their Scots-Irish descendants, such as the Hatfields and McCoys who waged a famous feud in Appalachia.)