This is quite densely written and covers a longish period during which the status of women as social beings did not improve greatly and in many ways became harder and less fulfilling. The status of the working man, however, did improve to a large extent. Laurence quotes the historian Lawrence Stone on what can and cannot be assumed about women - in essence, don't assume modern emotional patterns, premarital love, conjugal affection or maternal devotion to children. Furthermore, care is needed when: "looking at the structural constraints on women created by values, religion, customs laws and the nature of the economy." However, in much of what Anne Laurence sets out, there is evidence that women did care for their children and this period of history is one where ordinary people became increasingly free to choose their partners. What Laurence shows is that social relationships were confined or otherwise constricted by opportunity, once patterns of work began to change.
It's good to read a history book that doesn't flinch at giving one the full picture. This book covers life expectancy, family composition, marriage breakdowns and how women fared without a husband. There are chapters on sex and childbirth and others looking at general health, livelihoods, fashion and the arts as well as customs, beliefs and popular culture. Women and crime has a sub-section on witchcraft, which still reared up occasionally. The changes that took place for women in this period took place against a background of national upheaval - the Reformation, the Civil War, the beginnings of industrialisation, but none of the great freedoms ever came close to being available to women - they could not be educated, had no representation in parliament and class and religious restrictions pervaded their lives. It makes rather sad reading as Laurence quotes the rise of individualism becoming of much greater advantage to men than to women because it loosened the structures of the old communities and put in place the family as the prime social unit. As a woman you no longer belonged in a self-supporting community (the weavers, the brewers, the lace-makers, etc., all of which had their livelihoods broken up by increased industrialisation) and women's lives became more narrowly focused as a result. This book gives a wide variety of insights on women's lives in this period of history and is an excellent general guide.
This social popular history is extremely intriguing to any historian, or average reader of women's history. Laurence covers the lives of women in England between 1500-1760 with such attention to detail, that it was a joy to read. I highly recommend this historical work to any historian or history buff.