Saturday, 20 August 2005

Marriage & Sex for the Victorian Middle Class Woman

Most middle class women during the Victorian era, married by the time they were 25, the ideal age to commit oneself to matrimony being 20. If they had not managed to attract a husband by the age of 30, they well and truly on the way to being left on the shelf, so to speak.

Marriage in the Victorian era, was usually very much a case of giving up the little independence a woman had in order to become her husband's servant. It was also a means of securing financial security. A writer The Magazine of Domestic Economy in 1843, writes: "...to sell one's independence for gold is repugnant to all correct feeling. It is too often done, notwithstanding that unhappiness is the secret or evident result. We are no advocates for improvident marriages. Love in a cottage is very delightful, but it must be a cottage ornee and if with a double coach house the love will be the more enduring."

However, the husband to be did not simply go into a marriage offering all material goods and getting nothing in return. "A gentleman will often give his daughter a dowry amounting to no more than his eldest son's future income for one year..."

The ideal marriage was one in which the woman stayed at home, taking care of it, and making everything nice for when her husband came back after a tiring day of earning the family's income. The perfect wife was not supposed to ever trouble her husband with talk of domestic troubles, or worries about the children; she was expected to deal with all that on her own and present an image of surrender, piety and sumbission to her husband / master. When and if he wanted to have sexual intercourse she would have been expected to make herself available at once, but of course she was never supposed to desire or even want sex. Oh no, the moddest Victorian lady was to be devoid of sexual needs - her own gratification was a completely allien and unheard of concept, even to her.

Until 1857 divorce could not be obtained without a private Act of Parliament, so marriage was pretty binding...

10 comments:

van said...

this time was seminal in seperating gender roles. Industrialisation, set time work, clocks and mass production made men public and women private. Kant notes that men are 'rational,' ie time predictable, consistent etc and women are 'emotional,' ie unpredictable and non time based (childbirth, periods etc). The new industrial centres could not operate without 'bums on seats,' at set times every day. Previous to this gender roles were more blurred.
It is interesting to note that at this time slavery was a growth industry. The distinction between 'civilised, and 'feral,' black and white were all the vogue.This was applied to gender in uk.
I often think of how rich life must hae been in the pre-industrial age.I like ur blog...keep it up.

Ginger Mick said...

Ah! The good old days.

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