Monday, October 3, 2016

Were my ancestors virgins when they were married?

I'm working on a transcription of a Czech marriage contract from 1794. Here is the paragraph:

Ve jménu nejsvětěšjí trojice, Amen.Dnes níže psaného dne a roku staly se smlouvy svatební stalé, a v ničemž neporušitedelné, mezi dobře zachovalým mládencem panem Francem Michnou vlastním synem P: France Michny městianína Frankštadseho jakožto ženichem strany jednej, a dobře zachoval[o]u pann[o]u Johann[o]u, vlastni dcer[o]u Pana Jozefa Šustaly Frankštadsským mandliřem, jakožto nevěstou strany druhé, kteréžto u přítomnosti panův rodičí, a schválně k tomu dožadaných P: svědkův nasledujicím zpzsobem umluvené a zavřené byly, totiž:

(We put the [o] in brackets because it is standardized spelling today, but a local Moravian dialect that is probably still understood today without it, and it is not written explicitly in the original text.)

My question has to do with the phrase: "dobře zachovalým mladencem panem"/"dobře zachovalou pannou."

Literally "dobře zachovalým" is "well preserved." If a person is well preserved, to me that definitely implies some kind of physical wholeness or innocence, which seems to imply they are physically a virgin. But if a person's character is preserved, then it really mainly refers to their reputation.

And of course, what does it mean in the 18th century (and perhaps today as well) if one's character is preserved, if not vaguely alluding to their virginity? Perhaps it refers also to honesty, but don't you think that, in the past, in a highly religious culture, to be honest would also mean, or at least imply, chastity?

mladencem is "lad"

pannou is "virgin" or "maiden"

If she is a "dobře zachovalou pannou", and he is a "dobře zachovalým mladencem panem", I thought that panem *could* be the male version of panna.

"the well preserved young virgin lad Franz Michna"

But it turns out that "pan" and "panna" are actually terms of address: "mister" or "sir" and "miss" or "maiden". It's essentially an archaic form of "slečna."

Though...doesn't the word "maiden" (or even "miss") in English imply at least implied virginity? 

I understand that this is probably more of just a phrase, and though it probably does shed some small amount of light onto these ancestors' characters, it probably doesn't have significant deeper meaning.

On a broader level, I am interested in understanding the way that language reflects the concept of the progression from childhood to adulthood, innocence to knowledge, as symbolized through the act of transitioning from virginity to sexual activity. How does the language reflect how the culture perceives this concept?


Here is an example of a non-Western culture that has a different perception of virginity that definitely seems to be reflected in the language. In Jordanian Arabic, the word "bint" بنت for daughter/girl definitely implies virginity. You simply cannot be a "bint" if you are married. Though you can say still be a "bint" in relationship to someone else after you are married, like, "my married daughter," (bintee metzoweja بنتي مزوجة) or simply, "my daughter" (bintee بنتي), you cannot ever be called simply a "bint" again.


My understanding/perception is that in Jordanian culture, where I lived for 6 months with a wonderful Muslim family, if you are a girl and you are raped, you will no longer be considered a virgin. 

This is actually a *highly relevant* issue for Jordanian woman today, where honor killings are still a common problem. These are murders motivated by, "the perpetrator's belief that the victim has shamed the family in some way: by refusing an arranged marriage, conducting a relationship against a relatives' wishes, having sex outside marriage, being raped, being homosexual or dressing in ways deemed inappropriate." Fortunately for the victims of these heinous crimes, globalization and modernization are slowly changing Jordanian culture so that people who commit honor killings are considered backwards, provincial, or fanatical. 

But language, of course, evolves much slower than culture.

One of the scariest arguments I have *ever* witnessed was after a doppelganger of one of the young adult daughters in my host family was "seen" (except it wasn't her!) by one of her cousins hanging out in a café alone with a guy, which was of course against the rules. I was fairly certain she was not going to be in danger of an honor killing over something like that, but then...

If you are a 20 year old American woman living in Jordan, of course literally everyone will automatically assume you are not a virgin. Perceptions of Americans and American culture come mainly from the media, which of course we know does a great job of portraying normal-sized, ethnically diverse, intelligent, religious women (::::eye roll::::). In fact, I could not believe the nerve of one of my professors when, as we were drinking coffee (him coffee, me herb tea) in his office with some of the other international students, he asked me, point blank, about the state of my virginity. 

I wanted to say, "Um, excuse me? That is not your business."

Instead, I just said, "Na'am, Ta'aban! !نعم طعبا" ("Yeah, of course I am.")

That experience also brings this one to mind...what a trip down memory lane.

And it's not like people weren't actually sleeping around. They totally were, though probably less than were at my high school (though of course, I always thought I was the only girl who didn't do that, which simply cannot be true). The difference is the cultural perception of premarital sex. In Jordan, it is majorly, majorly frowned upon by their society, to the extreme point where forgiveness or even more basically just accepting their own agency is often not considered possible. So boys and girls who wanted to be intimate had to do so in extreme secrecy, unless your family network was progressive and/or you lived in a modern urban section of Amman. But even then...

Basically, the point of that tangent: this is an example of a culture with a very specific view of what it means for a girl to be honorable, and that view is not the same as my American culture.

Nor, I believe, is it the same as 18th century Czech culture.

My desire is to really understand what honor meant for my 18th century Czech great-great-great etc grandmothers, aunts, and female cousins.

In English, the word "maiden" definitely implies at least implied virginity, but the word "lad" does not. "Lad" is neutral. Maybe this reveals a double standard in my language/culture, that what makes a man "young/innocent/honerable" is not the same as what makes a woman "young/innocent/honerable". I don't know. When I hear the word "lad", honestly, I think of a very young boy aged around ~10. When I think of "maiden" I think of virgin, naive Rapunzel with her long blond hair sitting in her tower, shut away from the world.

I think that concept is ambiguous in English because we simply never use the word "maiden" ever. Or "virgin" for that matter - IMO it's kind of a squeamish word that you only ever use in a totally non-sexual context to jokingly mean "novice" - "I'm a virgin saxaphone player." Or, more likely, after hearing some terribly foul language in a movie, "Augh! My virgin ears!" When people use the word "virgin", it usually seems to be because they enjoy making other people feel uncomfortable, either because of their over-interestedness in the sexual activity of others or in displaying their own escapades for the world to recognize (Please. Just no. I am not interested in knowing that. Keep it to yourself!). 


My intuition tells me that the scribe of this marriage record was very anxious to preserve original Latin phraseology. Perhaps this is mainly an example of him trying to write "Honestus juvenis" in Czech. "Honestus Juvenis" differs from "Honestus Viduus" mainly in one respect: whether or not the person had ever been married before. 

"Honestus Juvenis" = "the honorable young/single ___"

"Honestus Viduus" = "the honorable widow..."

But, to be considered an "honesta juvena" do you need to be a virgin? What does it *actually mean* in 18th century česko to be a law-abiding/respectable/honorable woman - a woman of good repute?

It probably actually does infer some level of religious devotion/piety, which of course infers abstinence before marriage.

Or...it could just be a phrase. I will have to do some research by searching the matriky and land registers for examples of entries of pregnant brides. It would be really interesting to find out if these words actually meant anything about the character of the people they described, or if they were instead simply just meaningless legalese.

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