Uncivil Unions The Metaphysics of Marriage in German Idealism and Romanticism
by Adrian Daub
University of Chicago Press, 2012
Cloth: 978-0-226-13693-6 | Electronic: 978-0-226-13695-0
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226136950.001.0001


“What a strange invention marriage is!” wrote Kierkegaard. “Is it the expression of that inexplicable erotic sentiment, that concordant elective affinity of souls, or is it a duty or a partnership . . . or is it a little of all that?”

Like Kierkegaard a few decades later, many of Germany’s most influential thinkers at the turn of the eighteenth century wondered about the nature of marriage but rejected the easy answers provided by biology and theology. In Uncivil Unions, Adrian Daub presents a truly interdisciplinary look at the story of a generation of philosophers, poets, and intellectuals who turned away from theology, reason, common sense, and empirical observation to provide a purely metaphysical justification of marriage.

Through close readings of philosophers like Fichte and Schlegel, and novelists like Sophie Mereau and Jean Paul, Daub charts the development of this new concept of marriage with an insightful blend of philosophy, cultural studies, and theory. The author delves deeply into the lives and work of the romantic and idealist poets and thinkers whose beliefs about marriage continue to shape ideas about gender, marriage, and sex to the present day.


Adrian Daub is assistant professor of German Studies at Stanford University, where he teaches literature, philosophy, sexuality studies, and film in the 19th and 20th centuries.  His first book, published in German in 2009 by Konighsausen and Neumann, is “Zwillinghsafte Gebarden”—Zur kulturellen Wahrmehmung des vierhandigen Klavierspiels im neunzehnten Jahrundert (on cultural perceptions of four-hand piano music).  He also writes on opera, subject of his next book.


“This is an extremely intelligent and erudite work on a fascinating and significant topic.  Adrian Daub has complete conceptual and symbolic mastery of a very difficult body of philosophical thought and complex literary texts. His insights into the relationship between literary creation and sexual procreation represent a brilliant contribution to the understanding of the metaphysics of marriage.”
— Gerald Izenberg, Washington University in St. Louis

“Is it philosophy or political theory or literary analysis? Is it history of ideas or gender studies or cultural studies? I am convinced that this is an utterly original, brilliantly insightful, and scrupulously argued contribution to all of these areas.  I cannot think of any text that treats this period (or any other period, for that matter) with this kind of richness. A powerful, sound, and insightful work.”

— Richard T. Eldridge, Swarthmore College



Introduction: Uncivil Unions

Chapter 1: The Metaphysics of Dignity: Marriage in Kant and Fichte

Chapter 2: The Politics of the Copula: Love, Marriage, and the Question of Judgment

Chapter 3: “Marriage Is the Most Exalted Secret” : Novalis on the Metaphysics and Semiotics of Marriage

Chapter 4: Marriage between Chaos and Product: Friedrich and Dorothea Schlegel

Chapter 5: Marriage and Mediation: The Product among the Idealists

Chapter 6: Marriage Interrupted: Sophie Mereau’s Blüthenalter der Empfindung

Chapter 7: Transcendental Masturbators: Jean Paul’s Siebenkäs

Chapter 8: The Fate of Marital Autonomy in the Nineteenth Century

Epilogue: Marriage after Metaphysics

Abbreviations and Frequently Used Short Titles