Today is it, the official launch of Courtship and Marriage in Jane Austen’s world! You can find it on Amazon and Barnes and Noble now. It will be available at all the major booksellers and in paperback very soon.
I’ll be giving away another copy of the book with this post, so leave a comment for a chance to win.
Now for some more answers to questions from Austen fans!
- It seems like proposals of marriage can be given without any signs of courtship (Darcy’s confession of ardently loving Elizabeth and the asking for her consent to be his wife). Was this a common practice? And was there a period of time of acquaintance that had to pass before a man could make an offer? Or could he just “pop the question” at any time?
‘Signs of courtship’ were very subtle and direct discussions effectively impossible. It was possible the woman might not realize a man’s affections, but it probably wasn’t extremely common. Although young people were encouraged to take time to get to know one another, an offer of marriage could be made at a first meeting. But that wasn’t very frequent.
- How bad would be a damage to Miss Darcy’s reputation for just agreeing to an elopement, without it actually taking place?
It would entirely depend on who knew and how much gossip circulated about it. If kept quiet, then there would be little damage done.
- Why did they have dowries? I have read that the men would spend it all, or it would be held (for example, in a Trust) for the female and offspring as their security if the male dies.
The purpose of the dowry was to compensate the husband for the woman’s maintenance for her lifetime. Ideally interest off it provided a woman’s spending money, it provided for daughter’s dowries and younger son’s portions, and established her support in widowhood.
- What are the consequences of eloping? To reputation? To the dowry? Marriage articles?
Eloping would tarnish a young woman’s reputation. There would be no marriage articles which meant there would be no legal provision for her widowhood or for portions for her daughters and younger sons. Her dowry would belong to her husband and she would have no say or control in what he did with it.
- One plot I’ve seen a few times in regency stories is a woman who hopes to marry a rich gentleman will try to compromise herself in hopes that he will have to marry her. I am curious if this actually a common occurrence in reality and whether a woman’s reputation was as easily compromised as the stories suggest. For instance, a letter being given between a man and a woman, being alone in a room together with the door shut or a gentleman asking for a lock of a woman’s hair, etc.
Compromise was largely about acting in a way that convinced onlookers that the couple was engaged. If no one saw the ‘compromise’ or the person who saw it was not inclined to gossip about it, there is was essentially a moot point.
The issue with appearing engaged was that once a couple was betrothed, premarital sex was likely. Thus her reputation was compromised. An honorable man could salvage her reputation by offering her marriage.
There was no legal remedy for a compromise, so it was all about the honor and inclination of the man involved.
- Despite the strict rules of propriety that supposedly governed the behavior of engaged couples, I’ve read statistics that claim somewhere between 30% to 50% of brides were pregnant at the time of their marriage. (I realize statistics gleaned from the Internet can be totally inaccurate.) With the constant demand for being chaperoned, just how did these eager couples pull this off? Did the period of time from engagement to marriage vary with class distinctions?
The big issue here is that courting couples were heavily chaperoned, engaged couples were not. A bethrothal was looked upon as a legal contract, the wedding that formalized it was less significant. So after the bethrothal it was common for couples to anticipate their vows. This was one of the major reasons that short engagements were prefered all around. It was not uncommon for them to be as brief as fifteen days–the absolute minimum time it too for the reading of the banns.
- If a betrothed couple decide they aren’t compatible even after courtship and eventually a proposal was offered and accepted, what stigmas were placed on the bride and groom? Today the change is so easy, but back in Regency time it sure was not.
A engagement was far more serious then than it is today. It was a contract, almost a marriage, and one could be taken to court over breach of promise. Since premarital sex was very likely during an engagement, a woman’s reputation could suffer some serious harm if the engagement was broken. Breaking a contracted agreement would reflect badly on a man’s honor.
- What was the practice for wedding gowns for the various classes? I would imagine Georgiana could afford much more elaborate gowns for a wedding than the Bennet sisters. And what colors were worn? White gowns for brides was not the practice although I don’t know when that practice came in. And books talk about bridesmaids, but was that practice? I know they had to have witnesses so who stood in for that position? Was it a relative or a friend, older or near the same age? Were wedding always in the mornings with breakfasts to follow? I can’t remember any other time of day being used in stories I have read.
Brides married in their ‘best dress’, only royalty could afford to have a dress they only wore once. After the wedding, the bride would wear her dress until it wore out.
White was a fashionable, luxury color because of the maintenance it required. So wealthy brides wore white. Less well-off brides wore darker colors that would wear well over time.
Weddings required two witnesses. Frequently these would be a bridesmaid and a groomsman. Multiple bridesmaids were uncommon. They also wore a good or best dress for the wedding, possibly with new trims for the occasion. Bridesmaids were typically unmarried sisters.
Weddings, unless by special license were by law, always held between 8AM and noon. Wedding breakfasts were common, but not required.
- And how were weddings usually celebrated (by the different classes)?
For the most part, weddings were not the huge deal that they are today. Few people attended the ceremony. A meal, reception or party might be held afterward, according to the preferences and affluence of the couple. It was not unheard of for a couple to leave immediately after the wedding and not even attend the wedding breakfast.
- In which cases could the wife retain control of her fortune?
The short answer, almost never.
If a woman had a very large fortune, land or other asset, her property might be placed in a trust prior to her marriage. A trustee would manage the property for her and through that trustee she would have access to it. Women were discouraged from doing this as it implied distrust of the husband. Only the wealthiest women even had access to such a thing.
- I’m interested in the process of drawing up a settlement before the wedding – was it done for all the women (except perhaps the very poorest), or only the Gentry and aristocracy? How much was considered “enough” for a widow to live on? Who looked after the money? How was it ensured that the husband didn’t touch this money? And what happened to it, if the woman died before her husband (childbirth, disease, etc.)? Was this money always inherited by the daughters (like the Bennet girls all get 1000 upon Mrs. Bennet’s death)?
What was ‘enough’ to live on depended on one’s social class and expectations. A middle class family could live comfortably on 250 pounds a year. A widow’s jointure was established in the marriage articles, as would how much money there would be for daughters’ dowries and younger sons’ portions. Unless the woman had a separate estate, all monies belonged to her husband, so nothing but his honor prevented him from spending the money as he willed. It all became his at marriage, so little changed if the woman predeceased him.