A Study on the Victorian Model of Marriage
The Victorian Era was a period in history from about 1837 to 1901, during the reign of Queen Victoria. It was a time of great growth and strides for England.
The country was gaining profits from overseas and industrial improvements were making it easier and more profitable for businesses and for the home front.
The social class between families and income levels became more prominent and defined during this era. However, even with all of the improvements and advancements in industrial and social status, the Victorian marriage still remained somewhat antiquated, especially when compared to the modern marriage model of today’s world.
Before a couple decide to get married, they must first meet and obtain a certain level of relationship status to be able to proceed to marriage. In the 21st century, people meet, date, fall in love and get married.
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How they meet varies as well. They could meet at a dance club, Church, work, or even off of a dating site on the Internet. In contrast, the Victorian era looked at meeting a potential spouse a lot differently. “Courtship was considered more a career move than a romantic interlude for young men, as all of a woman’s property reverted to him upon marriage” (Courting the Victorian Woman, 1).
A lot more thought and decision making went into meeting that special someone. The young ladies of the wealthier class who were going to be ‘coming out’ into the available market would spend months in preparation ahead of time.
New outfits had to be purchased, and they would need to make enough prominent acquaintances to receive the invitations to the best events where they could meet the most eligible bachelors.
“To get ready for courtship and marriage a girl was groomed like a racehorse. In addition to being able to sing, play an instrument and speak a little French or Italian, the qualities a young Victorian gentlewoman needed, were to be innocent, virtuous, biddable, dutiful and be ignorant of intellectual opinion” (A Woman’s Place in Victorian Society, 4).
While searching for a mate, the women are on display, showing off their best attributes, qualities and skills that would proclaim her the best wife for a bachelor. Once married, the women then take on an entirely different role in society.
“A woman’s prime use was to bear a large family and maintain a smooth family atmosphere where a man need not bother himself about domestic matters. He assumed his house would run smoothly so he could get on with making money” (A Woman’s Place in Victorian Society, 4).
Victorian women were not supposed to have outside employment. Society believed that a woman’s sole job was to take care of home, hearth, children, and to do whatever necessary to help her husband succeed in his business.
“The job of a woman was to organize parties and dinners to bring prestige to her husband, making it possible for them to meet new people and establish economically important relationships. Her real job was devoting time to the children and maintaining the house” (Marriage in the Victorian Era, 2).
The modern day woman, in comparison, is usually a working wife and mother. She is expected to keep the home, hearth and children together while also earning income, which sometimes may even be the larger income of the household. Today’s society almost demands a double income to survive, even comfortably.
Although there are still a few women who are stay at home moms, the majority of modern day women have at least a part time job to help supplement the income. While men of the Victorian era expect their wives to stay home and not have a job outside the home, many modern day men actually want and expect their spouse to help financially. Women today have a lot more say in decisions and matters of the home than they did in the Victorian era.
“Married women had rights similar to the rights of children. A married couple was considered as one person. The husband was responsible for his wife and controlled her.
The wife was to obey her husband, and do as he pleased. All property was controlled by the husband. Even if a woman brought personal property into the marriage, the man automatically took control of it. Most women, especially those in the upper class, were not to have a job” (Marriage in the Victorian Era, 2).
The 21st century woman has a lot more control and rights. She can vote, have her own finances, and even sue her husband for divorce and property. Many of the modern day weddings have even excluded the “obey” commandment out of their wedding vows.
In the Victorian ages, the roles of husband and wife and marriage were clearly defined, with each knowing what was expected of them, not only from their spouse, but from society as well. The modern day marriage model is not so clearly defined and, not surprisingly, causes confusion and debates on just how a marriage should work.
An interesting couple from the Victorian era who did not conform completely to society’s image of marriage was Elizabeth Barrett Browning and her husband, Robert Browning. At a time when women were supposed to stay home and make their home, children and husband their only career, Elizabeth Barrett Browning spent much of her time writing.
Her husband, instead of being furious and embarrassed, or strictly forbidding her to work, helped and encouraged her with her writings. “Laws, social practices and economic structures narrows women’s choices for meaningful roles in society.
The people of this era emphasized the ideology of the home. They felt it was extremely important for women to preserve the identity of the home” (Marriage in the Victorian Era, 2). Although society would have had Mrs. Browning staying home and not working, they still appreciated her writings and her husband encouraged her to succeed.
The roles and rules of the marriage model have vastly changed since the Victorian era.
“The progression from Victorian marriage to modern marriage was a slow process. In the 1960’s the sexual revolution was a time when women began to exert their power and freedoms more publicly. At this point in history women were beginning to marry for happiness and not as a result of coercion” (Women’s History Then & Now – Marriage, 3).
The casual greeting and meeting of the opposite sex does not require seeing each others’ bank accounts to see if they are a financial match, shopping for the perfect clothes months in advance, or following such strict guidelines and etiquette as in the Victorian era. Women today are able to make their own choices, manage their own homes and careers and be in a marriage that is a partnership financially and romantically.
1. Hoppe, Michelle J. “Courting the Victorian Woman.” December 4, 2008.
2. “Marriage in the Victorian Era.” December 4, 2008.
3. “Women’s History Then & Now – Marriage.” December 4, 2008.
4. Thomas, Pauline Weston. “A Woman’s Place in Victorian Society – Social and
Fashion history.” December 4, 2008.