Courtship and Marriage in Victorian England

Courtship and Marriage in Victorian England

Courtship and Marriage in Victorian England

Courtship and Marriage in Victorian England

Synopsis

In contemporary culture, the near obsessive pursuit of love and monogamous bliss is considered "normal," as evidenced by a wide range of online dating sites, television shows such as "Sex in the City" and "The Bachelorette," and an endless stream of Hollywood romantic comedies. Ironically, when it comes to love and marriage, we still wrestle with many of the same emotional and social challenges as our 19th-century predecessors did over 100 years ago.

"Courtship and Marriage in Victorian England" draws on little-known conduct books, letter-writing manuals, domestic guidebooks, periodical articles, letters, and novels to reveal what the period equivalents of "dating" and "tying the knot" were like in the Victorian era. By addressing topics such as the etiquette of introductions and home visits, the roles of parents and chaperones, the events of the London season, model love letters, and the specific challenges facing domestic servants seeking spouses, author Jennifer Phegley provides a fascinating examination of British courtship and marriage rituals among the working, middle, and upper classes from the 1830s to the 1910s.

Excerpt

Although the 19th century has almost faded from living memory—most people who heard firsthand stories from grandparents who grew up before 1900 have adult grandchildren by now—impressions of the Victorian world continue to influence both popular culture and public debates. These impressions may well be vivid yet contradictory. Many people, for example, believe that Victorian society was safe, family centered, and stable because women could not work outside the home, although every census taken during the period records hundreds of thousands of female laborers in fields, factories, shops, and schools as well as more than a million domestic servants—often girls of 14 or 15—whose long and unregulated workdays created the comfortable leisured world we see in Merchant and Ivory films. Yet it is also true that there were women who had no household duties and desperately wished for some purpose in life but found that social expectations and family pressure absolutely prohibited their presence in the workplace.

The goal of books in the Victorian Life and Times series is to explain and enrich the simple pictures that show only a partial truth. Although the Victorian period in Great Britain is often portrayed as peaceful, comfortable, and traditional, it was actually a time of truly breathtaking change. In 1837, when 18-year-old Victoria became Queen, relatively few of England’s people had ever traveled more than 10 miles from the place where they were born. Little more than half the population could read and write, children as young as five worked in factories and mines, and political power was entirely in the hands of a small minority of men who held property. By the time Queen Victoria died in 1901, railways provided fast and cheap transportation for both goods and people, telegraph messages sped to the far corners of the British Empire in minutes, education was compulsory, a man’s religion (or lack of it) no longer barred him from sitting in Parliament, and women were not only wives and domestic . . .

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