Books

the story behind the book | kate tuttle

Marriage and the pursuit of happiness

david wilson for the boston globe

“It’s this age-old topic,” said Suzanne Leonard. “We’re fascinated by marriage.” The Simmons College professor isn’t talking about a Shakespeare play or ancient Greek love poem, however. Instead, Leonard’s reference is to the television phenomenon that is “The Bachelor” (and its related series, including “The Bachelorette”).

“On the one hand there’s the visual, which is really sumptuous,” Leonard said. “It’s beautiful; people get to wear gorgeous gowns; they go on exotic vacations; they get to live in a mansion. On the other, there’s this real question of how do you find a partner? It touches on all these aspects of romance and love that a lot of us spend a lot of time thinking about in our personal lives and they’re all on display for us in that show.”

In “Wife, Inc.: The Business of Marriage in the Twenty-First Century,” Leonard explores how American women look at and experience marriage. For centuries a pragmatic economic arrangement, modern marriage, Leonard said, has become bound up in the pursuit of happiness. “The quest for happiness, in particular for contemporary heterosexual women, is bound up in that quest to find love, to get married, and for many people, to have children,” she added. At a time of growing inequality, marriage itself has become “a luxury item,” Leonard found. While economic insecurity often keeps people from choosing to marry, “elite people are still getting married in pretty high numbers.”

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Yet even after getting married — which is seen as the prize at the end of the romance narrative — women often find themselves saddled with another job: the work of being a wife. “I think, for one thing, there’s this need to keep a pulse on the success of the relationship and the kind of emotional currents of the relationship,” Leonard said. “So often that’s not thought of as labor, but it is.”

Leonard will read 7 p.m. Wednesday at Porter Square Books.

Kate Tuttle, president of the National Book Critics Circle, can be reached at kate.tuttle@gmail.com.