Jenny Knipfer–Author

Writing to inspire, encourage, and enjoy

As a part of the Coffeepot Book Club, I am happy to feature The Landscape of a Marriage, today. I have not read this book yet, but it sounds interesting!

Book Title: Landscape of a Marriage * Author: Gail Ward Olmsted * Publication Date: July 29, 2021 * Publisher: Black Rose Writing * Page Length: 314 Pages * Genre: Historical Fiction


A marriage of convenience leads to a life of passion and purpose. A shared vision transforms the American landscape forever.

New York, 1858: Mary, a young widow with three children, agrees to marry her brother-in-law Frederick Law Olmsted, who is acting on his late brother’s deathbed plea to “not let Mary suffer”. But she craves more than a marriage of convenience and sets out to win her husband’s love. Beginning with Central Park in New York City, Mary joins Fred on his quest to create a ‘beating green heart’ in the center of every urban space.

Over the next 40 years, Fred is inspired to create dozens of city parks, private estates and public spaces with Mary at his side. Based upon real people and true events, this is the story of Mary’s journey and personal growth and the challenges inherent in loving a brilliant and ambitious man. 

GUEST POST: The Evolution of Marriage 

The institution of marriage has undergone a radical transformation, and if it is to survive, the changes will continue. Although nearly 50% of marriages currently end  in divorce, that percentage has actually dropped due, in part, to the overall decline in the rate of marriage; currently the lowest in the past century in the U.S. It makes sense that as the likelihood of marriage decreases, the chance of divorce also drops as we can assume that those who are getting married actually want to marry as opposed to feeling that society expects them to. The practice of marriage is by no means an outdated one, but the parameters have clearly changed. 

Let’s look at the 5 W’s of marriage- What? Who? When? Why? Where?

What is Marriage?

Just what is marriage anyway? The basis for marriage can vary from a legal agreement binding two parties together, an economic union offering financial advantages such as tax breaks or savings on health insurance, a religious sacrament, a romantic notion that two will grow as one, a cultural institution accepted and encouraged by society or all of the above.

While most couples profess to marrying for love, loveless marriages (i.e. the parties enter into marriage with no expectation of passion or romantic love) do still exist, but they are not very common. Until the end of the 18th century, though, love and marriage were mutually exclusive. Marriage was important as a political and economic institution — the upper classes saw marriage as a way to secure political alliances. For everyone else, marriage provided a foundation on which to build a family and allow for a division of labor, i.e. men were the hunters and gatherers and women raised the children and tended the hearth at home. It was not until the early 1900s that the importance or even the existence of romantic love, passion and sexual attraction became part of the marriage equation. 

In my latest novel- Landscape of a Marriage, the marriage in the title refers to the union of renowned landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted and his late brother’s widow Mary. For over 40 years, the two struggled, celebrated, grieved and eventually persevered through a number of professional and personal challenges. But despite the love and passion that developed from their union, Fred and Mary’s marriage was levirate, which is a type of marriage in which the brother of a deceased man must marry his brother’s widow. Levirate marriage was common among societies with a strong clan structure in which marriage outside the clan was forbidden. The term levirate is derived from the Latin levir, which translates to ‘husband’s brother’. 

Levirate marriage protected the widow and her children, ensuring for the provision of a male provider and protector. The practice of levirate marriage is strongly associated with patriarchal societies. The practice was extremely important in ancient times and remains so today in parts of the world. Vibbum, a form of levirate marriage, is mentioned in the Hebrew Bible, whereby the brother of a man who dies without children is encouraged to marry the widow. Islamic law does not prohibit a man from marrying his brother’s widow but requires the woman’s consent. 

Regardless of the purpose of marriage, a sanctioned union between two willing parties continues to be a common practice around the world

Who is Getting Married? 

As the definition of marriage continues to change, it is no longer reasonable to assume that marriage vows are being taken by a man and a woman. Same-sex marriage is legal in all 50 U.S. states and many countries across the globe. And on the subject of race, in 2015 one in six newlyweds married to a person of a different race or ethnicity. Someone needs to tell the company that makes those miniature figures for the tops of wedding cakes to get with the times!

The dated notion of the ‘blushing bride’ or the fumbling groom is negated because many marriages today involve at least one partner who has taken a walk down the aisle more than once. Second and third marriages are quite common and if nothing else, represent the romantic optimism that a ‘happy ever after’ is on the horizon. 

Relationships between the two people getting married have changed as well. Dating — as opposed to courtship — became customary only in the past 100 years. In the 1970s “free love” — or sex without commitment — became quite common. Regardless of whether pre-marital sexual relationships were occurring back in the day, they were not being discussed as openly as today. With the relatively new phenomenon of romantic relationships as part of the marriage equation, it’s not surprising that marriages would also be susceptible to change. 

When are People Getting Married?

The average ages of those entering into matrimony have changed dramatically over the years. Although much of the shift can be attributed to an increase in expected life spans, the median age of first marriages even in modern times has fluctuated significantly. In the 1920s-50s, women walked down the aisle for the first time at the age of 21, with men 2-3 years older. Perhaps as a result of World War II, ages dropped slightly in the 1950s and 60s to 20 and 23, respectively. Average ages crept up, roughly one year per decade to today’s average ages of 27 for women and 29 for men. The availability of effective contraception, the safety attributed to pregnancy for ‘older’ women and the growing incidence of women pursuing professional goals and delaying marriage and childbearing undoubtedly contribute to this shift.

Why Get Married?

Other than celebrating love and wanting to make a lifelong commitment in front of friends and family, it appears the most common reasons for a couple to get married are the perceived financial benefits. The idea of a shotgun wedding where the reluctant groom is forced at gunpoint to marry his pregnant partner is a cliché that is rapidly becoming outdated. Although unplanned pregnancies still occur despite modern advances in contraception, it is increasingly unlikely that they will cause an unplanned marriage. Single women give birth at increasingly high rates, with little of the societal or family disapproval that would have been the norm just 20 years earlier. But while children and the raising of a family are often the root cause of a marriage, many couples today plan to remain childless and decide to marry for a myriad of other reasons. 

Economics plays a significant role in marriage. Marriage rates tend to decrease during times of economic uncertainty; rates dropped 22% during the Great Depression. Today, couples may be trapped in a marriage because of financial constraints. Divorce can be expensive and the costs of maintaining separate households, childcare and medical benefits complicate the process of separation and divorce. Also, many postpone marriage until they can afford to purchase a home to house the children that are expected. The type of weddings and accompanying celebration are more frequently being scaled down. It is not uncommon for even well-heeled marriage celebrants to save on the costs of a lavish wedding in favor of a larger down payment on a house or to fund future travels. 

Where Do Weddings Take Place?

Traditionally, weddings take place in a house of worship or a city hall with a reception held at a nearby venue. The location is where one or both of the marriage celebrants grew up or where the couple currently lives. ‘Destination’ weddings where the guests and members of the wedding party travel to a location that is considered a vacation or a dream spot are popular, especially among couples who are more settled financially. These celebrations often occur in tropical locations like the Caribbean or Mexico. Couples have exchanged vows on the beach, on mountaintops, on water skis and while jumping out of planes. For those short on time, drive-through wedding chapels are available in Las Vegas. During the recent Covid-19 pandemic, many weddings were held on Zoom and shared on social media. 

On a personal note, I am a huge fan of marriage. I never turn down an invitation to a wedding and I always tear up when the couple recites their vows. My husband, Deane and I married (for love) in 1984 in a historic inn famous for their popovers. It is now the site of a well-known fast-food restaurant, so we may celebrate our next anniversary with chili cheese dogs and watermelon lime slushes. 

Long live marriage in whatever shape or form suits you and the one you love!,outside%20the%20clan)%20is%20forbidden.,%20Jan%20-%20Levirate%20marriage%20through%20the%20ages.pdf


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Gail Ward Olmsted was a marketing executive and a college professor before she began writing fiction on a fulltime basis. A trip to Sedona, AZ inspired her first novel Jeep Tour. Three more novels followed before she began Landscape of a Marriage, a biographical work of fiction featuring landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted, a distant cousin of her husband’s, and his wife Mary.

For more information, please visit her on Facebook and at







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Thank you!

Thank you for reading. Best wishes with your book, Gail!

Are you married? What’s your take on marriage?

I’ve been married 28 years and am blessed every day by the kind, generous man that my husband is. Marriage has certainly had its challenges but also its joys and is so worth the risk!

2 thoughts on “The Landscape of a Marriage

  1. Alicia Haney says:

    Hi, yes I have been married for 47 years and I am very Blessed to have a loving husband who is a very good provider , father and grandfather. Marriage to me is not a 50, 50 it is each of you putting in 100% in everything , Communication is also very , very important. And if you have children , you must work together for the sake of your children, not going against each other. Have a great week and stay safe. I enjoyed reading tis post.

    1. Hi Alicia, Congratulations! That’s a long time. I agree. It takes your all.
      You too! Thanks for reading and taking the time to comment.

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