In this book Sueann Caulfield explores the changing meanings of honor in early-twentieth-century Brazil, a period that saw an extraordinary proliferation of public debates that linked morality, modernity, honor, and national progress. With a close examination of legal theory on sexual offenses and case law in Rio de Janeiro from the end of World War I to the early years of the Estado Novo dictatorship, Caulfield reveals how everyday interpretations of honor influenced official attitudes and even the law itself as Brazil attempted to modernize.
While some Brazilian elites used the issue of sexual purity to boast of their country's moral superiority, others claimed that the veneration of such concepts as virginity actually frustrated efforts at modernization. Moreover, although individuals of all social classes invoked values they considered "traditional," such as the confinement of women's sexuality within marriage, these values were at odds with social practices-such as premarital sex, cohabitation, divorce, and female-headed households-that had been common throughout Brazil's history. The persistence of these practices, together with post-World War I changes in both official and popular moral ideals, presented formidable obstacles to the Estado Novo's renewed drive to define and enforce public morality and private family values in the late 1930s.
With sophisticated theoretical underpinnings, In Defense of Honor is written in a clear and lively manner, making it accessible to students and scholars in a variety of disciplines, including Brazilian and Latin American studies, gender studies, and legal history.