Category: 19th Century Marriage And Family

A Victorian Wife's Best Friend: The Role of Cats & Dogs in Cases of Spousal Abuse

Her Favourites by John Charlton, 1881.

The nineteenth century news is filled with reports of hero pets rescuing their masters and mistresses from various catastrophes. Dogs routed burglars and saved children from drowning, while cats meowed the alarm when the house was on fire or when a family member had stopped breathing in their bed. Both cats and dogs were also known to intervene in cases of spousal abuse. For a battered Victorian wife, this animal intervention could sometimes mean the difference between life and death. […]Continue Reading

Victorian Valentine's Day Verses for Rejecting Unwanted Suitors

The Two Central Figures in Derby Day by William Powell Frith, 1860.(Met Museum)
The Two Central Figures in “Derby Day” by William Powell Frith, 1860.
(Met Museum)

Published in 1875, The Lover’s Poetic Companion and Valentine Writer is a book intended for Victorian ladies and gentlemen “who wish to address those they love in suitable terms.”  It contains a variety of Valentine verses, ranging from the sweet to the satirical.  The book promises that these “Love Lyrics” are harmless and that even the more comical lines do not descend into vulgarity.  But what these verses lack in vulgarity, they more than make up for in unkindness and—in some instances—outright cruelty.[…]Continue Reading

The Solitary Vice: Victorian Views on Masturbation

Woman's Mission: Companion of Manhood by George Elgar Hicks, 1863.(Tate Museum)
Woman’s Mission: Companion of Manhood by George Elgar Hicks, 1863.
(Tate Museum)

During the Victorian era, masturbation—also known as self-pollution, self-abuse, or onanism—was believed to be both a moral and a physical evil.  Medical manuals of the era address it in the most severe terms, blaming male masturbation, and the resulting depletion of the body’s vital humors, for every imaginable illness, from blindness, impotence, and epilepsy to chronic fatigue, mental derangement, and even premature death.  Many of these beliefs can be traced back to two 18th century books, the most significant of which was Samuel Tissot’s famous 1760 medical treatise On Onania: or A Treatise upon the Disorders Produced by Masturbation, which asserts:[…]Continue Reading

The Victorian Baby: 19th Century Advice on Motherhood and Maternity

First Born by Gustave Leonard de Jonghe
First Born by Gustave Leonard de Jonghe, 1863.

During the 19th century, there were many sources of information on motherhood and maternity.  Some new mothers relied on the instructions of their nurse, midwife, or physician.  While others used the example set by their own mother as a guide for their conduct.  For all the questions remaining, there were motherhood and maternity manuals produced by hospitals, religious organizations, and advice experts.  These guides advised on everything from conception and pregnancy to nursery decoration, childrearing, and teenage rebellion.  […]Continue Reading

The Perils of May-December Marriages in the Nineteenth Century

The Arranged Marriage by Vasili Pukirev, 1861.
The Arranged Marriage by Vasili Pukirev, 1861.

While researching for another article, I happened upon an 1840s book which espouses harsh—and quite unintentionally hilarious—views on age disparities in marriage.  This book, titled The Midwife’s Guide, is actually a Victorian edition of the 17th century sex and midwifery manual known as Aristotle’s Masterpiece.  Written by an unknown author purporting to be Aristotle, it was the most widely read sex manual in 19th century England.  Only a fraction of the text is devoted to May-December marriages, but those brief pages leave one in no doubt of how the author feels about matches of unequal years.  He begins by writing:

“When greedy parents, for the sake of riches, will match a daughter that is scarcely seventeen, to an old miser that is above threescore; can anyone imagine that such a conjunction can ever yield satisfaction, where the inclinations are as opposite as the months of June and January.”

[…]Continue Reading