Jun 1 2010
I was at a used bookstore the other day and I came across an old Judith Duncan book. Judith Duncan used to write great stories for the Silhouette Intimate Moments and Harlequin Superromance line. One of the titles I loved was “If Wishes Were Horses” and it was about a man who loved his sister in law but because of his honor simply would never act on those feelings. The sister in law and her kids come to love with him because the brother died and left the sister in law in dire straights.
Each day that the hero spends with the sister in law is sweet torture. Sweet because she is in his house, sleeping in a bed that he bought, caring for her children, and looking happier than ever. Torture because he can’t touch her, can’t love her like his heart longs to.
I adore the brother who loves his sister in law story. That unrequited, unfulfilled love story really tugs at my heartstrings. In Bed with the Boss by Susan Napier has the same sort of vibe only the deceased husband and hero are not related.
However, I know that my love for these stories is not universal. In fact, I think I might even be in the minority. Some feel that the brother + sister in law story is too incestual. Others believe the issue of family strife is too difficult to overcome. The marriage between a man and his deceased wife’s sister was actually outlawed until 1907 in Britain (although I didn’t see a corollary law prohobiting a man from marrying his deceased brother’s wife). This was a list of prohibited marriages I found enacted in 1560 and remaining law until 1907 and beyond.
Biblically, there were conflicting accounts. It seems in Leviticus, God demanded that there be no marriage between a man and his brother’s wife. Yet in Deuteronomy, “the wife of the dead shall not be remarried outside of the family to a stranger; her husband’s brother shall go into her, and take her as his wife, and perform the duty of a husband’s brother to her.” Deuteronomy 25:15. This is called a levirate marriage (or Yibbum) as “levir” means “brother in law”. Apparently some have reconciled this biblical conflict by suggesting that the levirate marriage only take place if the first marriage was without issue.
In googling this concept, I came across the true love story of a woman who married her dead husband’s younger brother. Neither had feelings for the other while the deceased was alive and it was only after his death that the two became close and discovered they had feelings for one another. It was a rather sweet story despite not containing the intense feelings of longing that I enjoy in those unrequited love stories. What about you? Does the brother marrying the sister in law bother you? Does it matter if the former husband is dead? Do you like the stories? Why or why not?