Transnational Coupling in the Age of Nation Making during the 19th and 20th Centuries

Transnational Coupling in the Age of Nation Making during the 19th and 20th Centuries

By Nicole Leopoldie

Anthem Intercultural Transfer Studies

Transnational Coupling in the Age of Nation Making during the 19th and 20th Centuries examines and compares courtship and marriage patterns that occurred between France and the United States during the 19th and 20th centuries. Departing from state-centered studies of marriage law, it draws on the methodologies of transnational history, cultural history and the history of emotion to show that these unions were part of a broader pattern of the larger cultural love affair between the two societies.

Hardback, 168 Pages


February 2023

£80.00, $110.00

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About This Book

Transnational Coupling in the Age of Nation Making during the 19th and 20th Centuries deals with courtships and marriages that transcended national, cultural and linguistic boundaries. It deals with the formation of transnational families and transnational spaces. And, finally, because the historical concept of transnational marriage provides a unique prism through which to view the interconnectedness of societies at their most intimate cultural intersections, it deals with the longstanding, complex cultural relations between France and the United States during the 19th and 20th centuries.

In an effort to address not only why Franco-American marriages occurred but also how and why the dynamics that produced them changed over time, this work examines and compares two transnational marriage patterns in different historical contexts: the first, when wealthy American heiresses married French aristocrats during the second half of the 19th century—a period marked by relatively free transatlantic circulation and mobility—and the second, when borders were far more solidified—during the world wars when French women entered into matrimonial contracts with American soldiers.

The purpose of this work is twofold. In an effort to provide new categories of analysis that place the human experience into broader, more global perspectives, the first is to show how concepts of transnational marriage and courtship allow the historian to move further beyond the analytical frameworks of national histories by forcing the researcher to reconsider the ways in which one thinks about family formation and the permeability of national borders during these different stages of the national project. The second is to challenge underlying assumptions in existing historiographical explanations that those who crossed national borders to couple or to marry did so for purely socio-economic reasons. Nicole Leopoldie contends that such rationalizations are simply too narrow and that at the intersection of cross-cultural encounter and transnational coupling stood a profoundly emotional experience. Therefore, greater analytical considerations need to include both cultural and emotional motivations that were always in the background.

Because the social practices of courtship and marriage became mechanisms through which borders were crossed and new cultural spaces were created, they represent important elements of transnational entanglements. Therefore, rather than examining marriage motivation from the perspective of one society or another, this work seeks to examine instead the ways in which patterns of transnational marriage emerged out of social spaces of cross-cultural encounter between the two societies. In order to identify, map and analyze the transnational spaces that produced marriage during the 19th and 20th centuries, this work draws on descriptions of social events found in the French and American press, travel literature, personal accounts and guest lists. By examining where and how couples met and courted one another, these sources provide an important glimpse into not only transnational social networks and cultural rituals but also the ways in which marriage participants perceived, experienced and interpreted these spaces. In this spatial examination, emotions are employed as a category of analysis rather than a narrative device in order to show how complex cultural meanings within transnational spaces were experienced on personal levels among transnational-marriage participants. Because a variety of emotions manifested in both encounter and representations of the “other,” Leopoldie proposes that othering be further considered as not simply a cultural process, but an emotional one. By drawing on French and American literary works, travel literature and personal accounts found in unpublished and published memoirs, letters and interviews collected by contemporary journalists and oral historians, she argues that even though marriage participants from each of the two patterns conceived of the national and cultural boundaries that separated them in very different ways, attraction to notions of difference provoked important emotional responses and largely remained the driving force of marriage and coupling processes in both historical contexts. By participating in a transnational marriage, participants bound themselves not only to their spouse but also to the culture of that spouse. Motivations for transnational marriage were, therefore, still strategic but were largely based on preconceived notions of what they believed the other culture to be.


Placing the history of courtship between American heiresses and French aristocrats in conversation with the history of wartime unions between American soldiers and French women, this welcome addition to the literature on Franco-American relations offers a fresh take on the particular rituals, emotional registers, and contact zones—from high-society costume balls to Red Cross dances—that facilitated transnational marriages in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries —Brooke L. Blower, author of Becoming Americans in Paris: Transnational Politics and Culture between the World Wars.

An enthralling study of marital unions between American heiresses and French aristocrats during the Belle Epoque, and between American soldiers and working-class French women during the two world wars. It offers an eye-opening analysis of Franco-American cultural relations, transatlantic mobility, nationalism, and the general enshrining of marriage as the embodiment of romantic love while it also remained a social and legal arrangement —José C. Moya, Barnard College, Columbia University, USA.

An insightful transnational analysis of courtship and marriage in the Atlantic world comparing elite Franco-American marriages of the nineteenth century and wartime marriages of the early-to-mid twentieth century. Leopoldie contributes to the history of emotions, highlighting the changing transnational spaces of feeling within which these marriages were constituted and negotiated —Ian Tyrrell, Emeritus Professor of History, UNSW, Sydney.

This wonderful book examines Franco-American romantic relationships from the nineteenth century through World War II. Couples were drawn together, in part, by preconceptions that each society harbored of the other. Yet the cultural never subsumed the personal. The people in Leopoldie's book built transatlantic worlds of their own —Alan Lessoff, University Professor of History, Illinois State University.

Author Information

Nicole Leopoldie is a transnational historian who specializes in French and American cultural relations.


Anthem Intercultural Transfer Studies

Table of Contents

List of Figures; Acknowledgements; Introduction Marriage: National Borders and Personal Spaces; Part I  “Trading Titles for Treasure?”: Elite Marriages during the Nineteenth Century; Part II “Paris is Free—and So Are Its Kisses”: Wartime Marriages during the Twentieth Century; Conclusion; Bibliography; Index


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