By the end of the season, many relationships had been cemented, with an eye to the future. Thus began the serious chase, with marriage the ultimate goal.
There was a camaraderie among upper class women. They advised, gossiped, told secrets and wrote passionate letters to each other. They were the chief arrangers of social affairs, but woe to anyone who made an enemy of them, as they could be ostracized forever from society. When a young girl was on good terms with these social select, she could expect help in making an advantageous match.
There were rules to follow even here, however. Until 1823, the legal age in England for marriage was 21 years--for men and women. After 1823, a male could marry as young as fourteen without parental consent, and a girl at 12. Most girls, however, married between the ages of 18 and 23, especially in the upper classes.
It was also illegal to marry a deceased wife's sister. But you could marry first cousins. The attitude toward first-cousin marriages changed by the end of the century, however.
Marriage was encouraged only within one's class. To aspire higher, one was considered an upstart. To marry someone of lesser social standing was considered marrying beneath oneself.
In upper class marriages, the wife often brought with a generous dowry--an enticement for marriage. The financial aspects of a marriage were openly discussed, much like the pre-nuptial agreements of today. Both parties disclosed their fortunes. A man had to prove his worth in keeping his wife in the level of life she was accustomed. A woman, often looking to improve her social standing, used a dowry as a lure. To protect an heiress, her family could set up an estate trust for her, which would be controlled by Chancery Court. The woman would have access to this property if she applied, but her husband could not touch it.
An unmarried woman of 21 could inherit and administer her own property. Even her father had no power over it. Once she married, however, all possessions reverted to her husband. She couldn't even make a will for her personal property, while a husband could will his wife's property to his illegitimate children. Therefore, marriage, although her aim in life, had to be very carefully contemplated.
Because many marriages were considered a business deal, few started with love. Although as the years passed, many couples grew tolerably fond of each other, often resulting in a bond almost as deep as love.
The bank accounts have been studied, the ancestral lineages inspected, and political connections explored. If both parties passed muster, the next step toward marriage was the engagement.
If it had not already been done, the man was introduced to girl's parents and her peer group. Permission for asking for the daughter's hand in marriage had to be granted by bride's father, although the gentleman could wait until he had his bride's consent before asking.
A proposal was best made in person, with clear, distinct language, so the girl might not misunderstand the gentleman's intent. If he could not bring himself to propose in person, he could do so in writing. A girl did not have to accept her first proposal. She could play coy.
A short time was allowed to elapse before an engagement was announced, except to the most intimate friends/family of both parties. This was a precaution, lest the engagement be ended by either party.
The mother hosted a dinner party once the engagement was announced. The purpose of this dinner was to introduce the fiancé to his bride's family. A more formal evening party may have followed. Once the groom had been introduced to bride's family, the bride was then introduced to his. This could be a very trying time for a young girl, as a mother-in-law's eye was often critical.
After the engagement was announced to the family, the bride wrote to the rest of her friends with the news. At the same time, her mother wrote to the elders of these families. Engagements lasted from six months to two years depending upon ages and circumstances.
The engagement was finalized with a ring. The size and stone depended upon the groom's finances. They could be in the form of a love knot, a simple band, or a band embedded with different stones whose initials spelled out a name or word of love. For example, the Prince of Wales, Albert Edward, gave Princess Alexandra of Denmark a 'gypsy ring' with the stones Beryl, Emerald, Ruby, Turquoise, Iacynth and Emerald, to spell out his nickname, "Bertie."
A woman could, in turn, give her fiancé a ring, although it was not required.
The couple could become a bit more intimate once they were engaged. They could stroll out alone, hold hands in public, and take unchaperoned rides. A hand around the waist, a chaste kiss, a pressing of the hand, were allowed. They could also visit alone behind closed doors. But they had to be dutifully separated by nightfall, or overnight at country parties. Thus, if the engagement was broken, the girl suffered the consequences of a ruined reputation because of her previous behavior. An honorable man never broke an engagement, so as not to cause the girl discomfiture.
Unfortunately, some engagements did end, with resulting embarrassment and possibly even legal action should it be terminated by one party over the protest of the other. A "breach of promise" suit might result in one party paying for the other's damages, such as cost of a wedding gown and trousseau. This was one reason news of the betrothal was often kept from family and friends. It wasn't considered official, and therefore would not hold up in court. Women were even cautioned as to what they wrote in letters and journals, should the case go that far.
As callous as all this sounds, there was true romance and love during the Victorian era. Why else did samples of heart-rending verses and flowery cards last through the ages for us to ponder and dream over? Perhaps it was these very constraints and rules that made true love all the more special to those who found it. For lucky were the ones who found love within their class, and within the approval of their families. Yet even those marriages that did not begin with love, often ended in a deep, endearing attachment that would be envied by many.
Courting the Victorian Woman ---By Michelle J. Hoppe
THE APPROVED ENGAGEMENT
Usually, however, when the young man enters the study or office of her father, the latter has a perfectly good idea of what he has come to say and, having allowed his attentions, is probably willing to accept his daughter’s choice; and the former after announcing that the daughter has accepted him, goes into details as to his financial standing and prospects. If the finances are not sufficiently stable, the father may tell him to wait for a certain length of time before considering himself engaged, or if they are satisfactory to him, he makes no objection to an immediate announcement. In either case, the man probably hurries to tell the young woman what her father has said, and if he has been very frequently at the house, very likely they both tell her mother and her immediate family, or, more likely still, she has told her mother first of all.
HIS PARENTS CALL ON HERS
As soon as the young woman’s father accepts the engagement, etiquette demands that the parents of the bridegroom-elect call at once (within twenty-four hours) upon the parents of the bride-to-be. If illness or absence prevents one of them, the other must go alone. If the young man is an orphan, his uncle, aunt or other nearest relative should go in the parents’ place. Not even deep mourning can excuse the failure to observe this formality.
THE ENGAGEMENT RING
It is doubtful if he who carries a solitaire ring enclosed in a little square box and produces it from his pocket upon the instant that she says “Yes,” exists outside of the moving pictures! As a matter of fact, the accepted suitor usually consults his betrothed’s taste—which of course may be gratified or greatly modified, according to the length of his purse—or he may, without consulting her, buy what ring he chooses. A solitaire diamond is the conventional emblem of “the singleness and endurability of the one love in his life,” and the stone is supposed to be “pure and flawless” as the bride herself, and their future together—or sentiments equally beautiful. There is also sentiment for a sapphire’s “depth of true blue.” Pearls are supposed to mean tears; emeralds, jealousy; opals, the essence of bad luck; but the ruby stands for warmth and ardor: all of which it is needless to say is purest unfounded superstition.
In the present day, precious stones having soared far out of reach of all but the really rich, fashion rather prefers a large semi-precious one to a microscopic diamond. “Fashion,” however, is merely momentary and local, and the great majority will probably always consider a diamond the only ring to have.
It is not obligatory, or even customary, for the girl to give the man an engagement present, but there is no impropriety in her doing so if she wants to, and any of the following articles would be suitable: A pair of cuff links, or waist-coat buttons, or a watch chain, or a key chain, or a cigarette case. Probably because the giving of an engagement ring is his particular province, she very rarely gives him a ring or, in fact, any present at all.
The engagement ring is worn for the first time “in public” on the day of the announcement.
Usually a few days before the formal announcement—and still earlier for letters written abroad or to distant places—both young people write to their aunts, uncles, and cousins, and to their most intimate friends, of their engagement, asking them not to tell anyone until the determined date.
As soon as they receive the news, all the relatives of the groom-elect must call on the bride. She is not “welcomed by the family” until their cards, left upon her in person, assure her so. She must, of course, return all of these visits, and as soon as possible.
If his people are in the habit of entertaining, they should very soon ask her with her fiancé to lunch or to dinner, or after the engagement is publicly announced, give a dinner or tea or dance in her honor. If, on the other hand, they are very quiet people, their calling upon her is sufficient in itself to show their welcome.
In case of a recent death in either immediate family, the engagement cannot be publicly announced until the first period of mourning is past. (It is entirely dignified for a private wedding to take place at the bedside of a very ill parent, or soon after a deep bereavement. In that case there is, of course, no celebration, and the service is read in the presence of the immediate families only.)
The announcement is invariably made by the parents of the bride-elect. It is a breach of etiquette for a member of the young man’s family to tell of the engagement until the formal announcement has been arranged for.
ANNOUNCEMENT OF ENGAGEMENT
On the evening before the day of the announcement, the bride’s mother either sends a note, or has some one call the various daily papers by telephone, and says: “I am speaking for Mrs. John Huntington Smith. Mr. and Mrs. Smith are announcing the engagement of their daughter, Mary, to Mr. James Smartlington, son of Mr. and Mrs. Arthur Brown Smartlington, of 2000 Arcade Avenue.”
If either the Huntington Smiths or the Arthur Smartlingtons are socially prominent, reporters will be sent to get further information. Photographs and details, such as entertainments to be given, or plans for the wedding, will probably be asked for. The prejudices of old-fashioned people against giving personal news to papers is rapidly being overcome and not even the most conservative any longer object to a dignified statement of facts, such as Mrs. Smith’s telephone message.
It is now considered entirely good form to give photographs to magazines and newspapers, but one should never send them unless specially requested.
On the eve of the announcement, a dinner is sometimes given by the young girl’s parents, and the news is told by her father, who at about salad course or dessert, proposes the health of his daughter and future son-in-law.
HOW A HEALTH IS PROPOSED
The host after directing that all glasses at the table be filled, rises, lifts his own glass and says: “I propose we drink to the health of my daughter Mary and the young man she has decided to add permanently to our family, James Smartlington.”
“A standing toast: To my Mary and to her—Jim!”
“I want you to drink the happiness of a young pair whose future welfare is close to the hearts of all of us: Mary (holding up his glass and looking at her) and Jim!” (holding it up again and looking at him). Every one except Mary and Jim rises and drinks a swallow or two (of whatever the champagne substitute may be). Every one then congratulates the young couple, and Jim is called upon for a “speech”!
Generally rather “fussed,” Jim rises and says something like: “I—er—we—thank you all very much indeed for all your good wishes,” and sits down. Or if he is an earnest rather than a shy youth, perhaps he continues: “I don’t have to tell you how lucky I am, the thing for me to do is to prove, if I can, that Mary has not made the mistake of her life in choosing me, and I hope that it won’t be very long before we see you all at our own table with Mary at the head of it and I, where I belong, at the foot.”
“I can’t make a speech and you know it. But I certainly am lucky and I know it.”
WHEN NO SPEECH IS MADE
The prevailing custom in big cities is for the party to be given on the afternoon or evening of the day of announcement. The engagement in this case is never proclaimed to the guests as an assembled audience. The news is “out” and everyone is supposed to have heard it. Those who have not, can not long remain ignorant, as the groom-elect is either receiving with his fiancée or brought forward by her father and presented to every one he does not know. Everybody congratulates him and offers the bride-to-be good wishes for her happiness.
A dinner or other entertainment given to announce an engagement is by no means necessary. “Quiet people” very often merely write notes of announcement and say they will be at home on such an afternoon at tea time. The form and detail are exactly the same as on an habitual day at home except that the bride and groom-elect both receive as well as her mother.
PARTIES FOR THE ENGAGED COUPLE
If the families and friends of the young couple are at all in the habit of entertaining, the announcement of an engagement is the signal always for a shower of invitations.
The parents of the groom-elect are sure to give a dance, or a “party” of one kind or another “to meet” their daughter-to-be. If the engagement is a short one, their life becomes a veritable dashing from this house to that, and every meal they eat seems to be one given for them by some one. It is not uncommon for a bride-elect to receive a few engagement presents. (These are entirely apart from wedding presents which come later.) A small afternoon teacup and saucer used to be the typical engagement gift, but it has gone rather out of vogue, along with harlequin china in general. Engagement presents are usually personal trifles sent either by her own very intimate friends or by members of her fiancée’s family as especial messages of welcome to her—and as such are very charming. But any general fashion that necessitates giving engagement as well as wedding presents may well be looked upon with alarm by those who have only moderately filled pocketbooks!
ENGAGED COUPLE IN PUBLIC
The hall-mark of so-called “vulgar people” is unrestricted display of uncontrolled emotions. No one should ever be made to feel like withdrawing in embarrassment from the over-exposed privacy of others. The shrew who publicly berates her husband is no worse than the engaged pair who snuggle in public. Every one supposes that lovers kiss each other, but people of good taste wince at being forced to play audience at love scenes which should be private. Furthermore, such cuddling gives little evidence of the deeper caring—no matter how ardent the demonstration may be.
Great love is seldom flaunted in public, though it very often shows itself in pride—that is a little obvious, perhaps. There is a quality of protectiveness in a man’s expression as it falls on his betrothed, as though she were so lovely a breath might break her; and in the eyes of a girl whose love is really deep, there is always evidence of that most beautiful look of championship, as though she thought: “No one else can possibly know how wonderful he is!”
This underlying tenderness and pride which is at the base of the attitude of each, only glints beneath the surface of perfect comradeship. Their frank approval of whatever the other may do or say is very charming; and even more so is their obvious friendliness toward all people, of wanting the whole world beautiful for all because it is so beautiful to them. That is love—as it should be! And its evidence is a very sure sign-post pointing to future happiness.
ETIQUETTE OF ENGAGED PEOPLE
It is unnecessary to say that an engaged man shows no attention whatever to other women. It should be plain to every one, even though he need not behave like a moon-calf, that “one” is alone in his thoughts.
Often it so happens that engaged people are very little together, because he is away at work, or for other reasons. Rather than sit home alone, she may continue to go out in society, which is quite all right, but she must avoid being with any one man more than another and she should remain visibly within the general circle of her group. It always gives gossip a chance to see an engaged girl sitting out dances with any particular man, and slander is never far away if any evidence of ardor creeps into their regard, even if it be merely “manner,” and actually mean nothing at all.
IN THE BACKWATERS OF LONG ENGAGEMENT
Unless the engaged couple are both so young, or by temperament so irresponsible, that their parents think it best for them to wait until time is given a chance to prove the stability of their affection, no one can honestly advocate a long-delayed marriage.
Where there is no money, it is necessary to wait for better finances. But the old argument that a long engagement was wise in that the young couple were given opportunity to know each other better, has little sense to-day when all young people know each other thoroughly well.
A long engagement is trying to everyone—the man, the girl, both families, and all friends. It is an unnatural state, like that of waiting at the station for a train, and in a measure it is time wasted. The minds of the two most concerned are centered upon each other; to them life seems to consist in saying the inevitable good-by.
Her family think her absent-minded, distrait, aloof and generally useless. His family never see him. Their friends are bored to death with them—not that they are really less devoted or loyal, but her men friends withdraw, naturally refraining from “breaking in.” He has no time between business and going to see her to stop at his club or wherever friends of his may be. Her girl friends do see her in the daytime, but gradually they meet less and less because their interests and hers no longer focus in common. Gradually the stream of the social world goes rushing on, leaving the two who are absorbed in each other to drift forgotten in a backwater. He works harder, perhaps, than ever, and she perhaps occupies herself in making things for her trousseau or her house, or otherwise preparing for the more contented days which seem so long in coming.
Once they are married, they no longer belong in a backwater, but find themselves again sailing in midstream. It may be on a slow-moving current, it may be on a swift,—but their barge sails in common with all other craft on the river of life.
Should a Long Engagement Be Announced?
Whether to announce an engagement that must be of long duration is not a matter of etiquette but of personal preference. On the general principle that frankness is always better than secretiveness, the situation is usually cleared by announcing it. On the other hand, as illustrated above, the certain knowledge of two persons’ absorption in each other always creates a marooned situation. When it is only supposed, but not known, that a man and girl particularly like each other, their segregation is not nearly so marked.
MEETING OF KINSMEN
At some time before the wedding, it is customary for the two families to meet each other. That is, the parents of the groom dine or lunch at the house of the parents of the bride to meet the aunts, uncles and cousins. And then the parents of the bride are asked with the same purpose to the house of the groom-elect.
It is not necessary that any intimacy ensue, but it is considered fitting and proper that all the members of the families which are to be allied should be given an opportunity to know one another—at least by sight.
GIFTS WHICH MAY AND THOSE WHICH MAY NOT BE ACCEPTED
The fiancée of a young man who is “saving in order to marry,” would be lacking in taste as well as good sense were she to encourage or allow him extravagantly to send her flowers and other charming, but wasteful, presents. But on the other hand, if the bridegroom-elect has plenty of means, she may not only accept flowers but anything he chooses to select, except wearing apparel.
He may give her all the jewels he can afford, he may give her a fur scarf, but not a fur coat. The scarf is an ornament, the coat is wearing apparel. If she is very poor, she may have to be married in cheese-cloth, or even in the dress she wears usually, but her wedding dress and the clothes she wears away, must not be supplied by the groom or his family. There is one exception: if his mother, for instance, has some very wonderful family lace, or has kept her own wedding dress and has no daughter herself, and it would please her to have her son’s wife wear her lace or dress, it is proper for the bride to consent. But it would be starting life on a false basis, and putting herself in a category with women of another class, to be clothed by any man, whether he is soon to be her husband or not.
If the engagement should be so unfortunate as to be broken off, the engagement ring and all other gifts of value must be returned.
An engagement having been made, it is desirable that it be carried to a successful termination by marriage. To do this, considerable depends upon both parties.
The gentleman should be upon pleasant terms with the lady's family, making himself agreeable to her parents, her sisters and her brothers. Especially to the younger members of her family should the gentleman render his presence agreeable, by occasional rides and little favors, presents of sweetmeats, etc.
He should also take pains to comply with the general regulations of the family during his visits, being punctual at meals, and early in retiring; kind and courteous to servants, and agreeable to all.
He should still be gallant to the ladies, but never so officiously attentive to anyone as to arouse uneasiness upon the part of his affianced. Neither should he expect her to eschew the society of gentlemen entirely from the time of her engagement.
The lady he has chosen for his future companion is supposed to have good sense, and while she may be courteous to all, receiving visits and calls, she will allow no flirtations, nor do anything calculated to excite jealousy on the part of her fiance.
The conduct of both after the engagement should be such as to inspire in each implicit trust and confidence.
Visits should not be unduly protracted. If the gentleman makes them in the evening, they should be made early, and should not be over two hours in length. The custom of remaining until a late hour has passed away in genteel society. Such conduct at the present time, among the acquaintance of the lady, is certain to endanger her reputation.
For the gentleman and lady who are engaged to isolate themselves from others when in company, or do anything that shall attract the attention of the company to themselves, is in bad taste. Such conduct will always call forth unfavorable comments. The young ladies will sneer at it from jealousy, the young men will pronounce it foolish, and the old will consider it out of place.
And yet, by virtue of engagement, the gentleman should be considered the rightful escort, and upon all occasions the lady will give him preference; and he will especially see, however thoughtful he may be of others, that her wants are carefully attended to.
Should a misunderstanding or quarrel happen, it should be removed by the lady making the first advances towards a reconciliation. She thus shows a magnanimity which can but win admiration from her lover. Let both in their conduct towards the other be confiding, noble and generous.
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