Category: 19th Century Marriage And Family

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

The Spinster’s Numeration Table: A Guide for Nineteenth Century Men

An Encounter at the Spinning Wheel by George Goodwin Kilburne , n.d.

Recently, while researching, I came across a “Spinster’s Numeration Table” printed in the 1837 edition of the New Monthly Magazine. This table lists out the various ages of an unmarried woman and corresponds them to certain characteristics. It is meant to be humorous, but—as with all humor of this sort—there is a grain of historical truth to be gleaned from the descriptions. The table gives us insight into how spinsters were viewed and at what age unmarried women were deemed to be past their prime.[…]Continue Reading

Victorian Handcuff Bracelets for Engagement and Marriage

The New Bracelet by Frans Verhas, (1827-1897).

Gold bracelets and bangles were popular throughout the Victorian era. They came in a variety of styles, including thin bracelets, heavy bracelets, and bracelets adorned with jewels. Most were fairly commonplace in appearance; however, in the late nineteenth century, a new style emerged on the scene in the form of gold bracelets made to look—and sometimes function—like handcuffs. As the 1879 edition of Godey’s Lady’s Book reports;[…]Continue Reading

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