The Heart in the Glass Jar


The Heart in the Glass Jar

Love Letters, Bodies, and the Law in Mexico

William E. French

The Mexican Experience Series

316 pages


July 2015


$35.00 Add to Cart

May 2018


$25.00 Add to Cart
eBook (EPUB)

July 2015


$25.00 Add to Cart
eBook (PDF)

July 2015


$25.00 Add to Cart

About the Book

The Heart in the Glass Jar begins with one man’s literal heart (that of a prominent statesman in mid-nineteenth-century Mexico) but is truly about the hearts, bodies, legal entanglements, and letters—as both symbols and material objects—of northern Mexicans from the 1860s through the 1930s.
William E. French’s innovative study of courtship practice and family formation examines love letters of everyday folk within the framework of literacy studies and explores how love letters functioned culturally and legally. French begins by situating love letters in the context of the legal system, which protected the moral order of families and communities and also perpetuated the gender order—the foundation of power structures in Mexican society. He then examines reading and writing practices in the communities that the letters came from: mining camps, villages, small towns, and the “passionate public sphere” that served as the wider social context for the love letters and crimes of passion. Finally, French considers “sentimental anatomy,” the eyes, hearts, souls, and wills of novios (men and women in courting relationships), that the letters gave voice to and helped bring into being.
In the tradition of Carlo Ginzburg’s The Cheese and the Worms and Natalie Zemon Davis’s The Return of Martin Guerre, French connects intimate lives to the broader cultural moment, providing a rich and complex cultural history from the intersection of love and law.

Author Bio

William E. French is an associate professor of history at the University of British Columbia. He is the author of A Peaceful and Working People: Manners, Morals, and Class Formation in Northern Mexico and the coeditor of Gender, Sexuality, and Power in Latin America since Independence.


"An important contribution to a relatively new field of history."—Guiomar Dueñas-Vargas, Hispanic American Historical Review

"Gracefully written, convincingly argued, and accessible to nonspecialists, this book is equally well suited to graduate seminars and undergraduate courses in Mexican history as well as specialized history and/or theory courses on love, courtship, gender relations, and the written word."—Robert M. Buffington, Historian

“Surprising, intriguing, and sophisticated. . . . This is masterful scholarship with an undercurrent of playfulness.”—William H. Beezley, coeditor of The Oxford History of Mexico

“This is a deeply learned book, the mature work of a widely read, accomplished, and innovative historian.”—Ann S. Blum, author of Domestic Economies: Family, Work, and Welfare in Mexico City, 1884–1943

Table of Contents

Heading (Acknowledgments)
Introduction: The Heart in the Glass Jar  
Section 1: The Letter of the Law
Section 2: The Lettered Countryside  
Section 3: The Body of the Letter  


2016 Thomas McGann Book Prize in Modern Latin American History

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