Marriage in the Victorian In the Victorian, marriage was seen mainly as bringing up ones status, people didn t marry for love they married for money. In this case, Victorians kept marriage between family members to keep the wealth there. Throughout many Victorian works this trend in seen often. In Thomas Hardy's novel, Desperate Remedies, in the beginning we learn that Cytherea had to end her relationship with Ambrose Grade, because she was going to be with her cousin who she had prior flirtation with but he had left and went to India and now he was to return (9).
Another relationship between cousins in this novel is with Edward Spring rove and Adelaide Hinton who have been engaged for quite sometime (122). Why in the Victorian is it okay for first cousins to marry If cousins could marry what other relatives were allowed to marry. Were cousins marrying each other okay with the church Cousins marrying in the Victorian was not the first time the idea was raised. In the 1650's, The Quakers decided not to allow marriage between cousins. A man named Thomas Hodgkin challenged this rule in 1840, arguing that the Bible did not forbid it and there were no medical reason to forbid it. His appeal was rejected, but marriage between first cousins was eventually permitted towards the end of the 19th century.
In the Victorian, courtship was considered more of a career move than a romantic interlude for a young man, as all of a woman's property was reverted to him upon marriage. Marriage was encouraged only in one's class. To aspire higher, one was considered to upstart. To marry someone of lesser social standing was considered marrying beneath oneself (Hoppe 2). Cousins marrying one another was a way to marry someone in the same social standing and to keep property in the family. Numerous characters in Victorian fiction married their first cousins.
This practice was perfectly legal in the eye of both civil and religious authorities. The table of Prohibitive Degrees in the Church of England's Book of Common Prayer listed thirty relatives whom one might not marry, but first cousins were not on the list (McMurtry 215). One of those people on that list that was forbidden marriage with was the deceased wife's sister. Nor was this type of marriage introduced in fiction.
A man was not supposed to marry a woman in this category on the grounds that his former wife's relatives had become literally his own, meaning husband and wife being one flesh, and that to marry her sister would constitute incest (McMurtry 216). There were nearly annual efforts to abolish one of the prohibited degrees by authorizing marriage with a deceased wife's sister. Despite substantial changes during the Victorian period, marriage law continued to grant more rights to men than to women at the turn of the century (Shanley 478). Another work that deals with first cousin marriage is Elizabeth Browning's verse novel Aurora Leigh. The novel deals with a portrait of a young woman committed to her poetry. It also deals with presentation of social issues concerning women and in its claims for Aurora's poetic vocation.
Aurora refuses a proposal of marriage from her cousin Romney, who wants her to be his helpmate in the liberal causes he has embraced. In the Victorian, it seemed that people only cared about money and being prosperous, which is fine. However, to go as far as to marry a relative to keep property in the family seems a little too much. Now in the 20th century, marrying ones cousin is shunned and the only time you do see cousins marrying each other is on The Jerry Springer Show.
Browning, Elizabeth. Aurora Leigh. The Norton Anthology of English Literature. Eds. M.H. Abrams and Stephen Greenblatt. New York: Norton. Hardy, Thomas. Desperate Remedies. 1871.
New York: Penguin, 1998.
Hoppe, Michelle. Courting the Victorian Woman. New York: Penguin, 1998.
McMurtry, Jo. Victorian Life and Victorian Fiction. CT: Archon Books, 1979.
Shanley, Mary. Marriage Law. Victorian Britain. Sally Mitchell. New York: Garland, 1988.