Category: 19th Century Marriage And Family

Ether for Every Occasion: Wedding Nights, Frolics, and Flammable Binges

The First Use of Ether in Dental Surgery By Ernest Board, 1846.
(Wellcome Images, CC BY 4.0)

Derived from ethyl alcohol, ether was a sweet-smelling, colorless liquid that came into medical prominence in the nineteenth century. When vaporized and inhaled, it produced varying degrees of unconsciousness. First employed as a general anesthetic by American doctors in the 1840s, its popularity quickly spread to Victorian England. But ether wasn’t only used during surgeries. It was also used recreationally, as well as to address myriad calamities of life in ways that ranged from the mundane to the outright creepy.[…]Continue Reading

Victorian Advice on Civility Toward Women

Quarreling by James Tissot, c. 1874-76.
(Private Collection)

Nobody likes to be shouted at or spoken to in an abusive, combative tone. In the Victorian era, however, such behavior was especially distasteful when engaged in by a man and directed at a woman. Men were generally larger in size and more powerful in position. It was their duty as gentlemen to treat women with respect, whether those women be the lowliest of servants or the grandest of ladies.[…]Continue Reading

The Forty-Year-Old Victorian Bride

The Wedding Dress by Thomas Kennington, 1889.

By the end of the Victorian era, some women were beginning to recognize the advantages of marrying a little later in life, after one had gained a modicum of maturity and life experience. In fact, according to a report in the April 19, 1901 edition of the Islington Gazette, “a spinster bride of forty is becoming more and more frequent, especially in high society.” The Gazette attributes this as much to cosmetics as to changing societal norms, stating that:[…]Continue Reading

The Etiquette of Broken Betrothals: Victorian Advice on Ending an Engagement

Jilted by Briton Riviere, 1887.
(Philadelphia Museum of Art)

In the Victorian era, a broken engagement was no small matter. If a gentleman jilted his fiancée, he risked doing untold damage to both her reputation and his own. Even so, if an engaged couple discovered that they were incompatible, Victorian era marriage manuals and books on etiquette strongly advised breaking the engagement rather than embarking on what would surely be a miserable marriage. As The New York Fashion Bazar Book of Etiquette (1887) explains:[…]Continue Reading

The Truth About Reformed Rakes: Victorian Views on Marrying a Scoundrel

The Kiss by Carolus Duran, 1868.

If you’ve ever read a historical romance novel, you’ll likely be familiar with the oft-quoted belief that “reformed rakes make the best husbands.” This matrimonial maxim did not, however, originate in the world of Regency and Victorian fiction. In fact, when it came to marriage, many a nineteenth century lady firmly believed that a reformed rake was superior to other men. Not only was a rake more sexually experienced and (presumably) a better lover, but—after having sown his wild oats—a rake was believed to be more attentive to his business and more indulgent toward his wife.[…]Continue Reading

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