Published by White Soup Press
Good morning my dear readers. Today I am welcoming Maria Grace to Just Jane 1813, where she will share with us some of the most frequently asked questions that readers ask about courtship and marriage when they read Jane Austen’s works. Her newest release, Courtship and Marriage in Jane Austen’s World, tackles these fascinating questions and many others, as readers become privy to the nuances, laws, and customs surrounding courtship and marriage during the Regency era. In a few weeks, I will be reviewing this book for my readers on Just Jane 1813. The first book in this series is titled, A Jane Austen Christmas: Regency Christmas Traditions.
Good morning, Maria, and welcome to Just Jane 1813!
Thanks for inviting me to share some of my research about courtship and marriage in Jane Austen’s day. Customs have changed dramatically in the two centuries since Jane Austen wrote her novels. References her original readers would have understood leave today’s readers scratching their heads and missing important implications. Today I’m tackling just a few of the questions that come up when reading Austen’s works.
Why did so many Austen heroines have dowries? Did all women have them?
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.
Not all women had them and those who did rarely had even the one thousand pounds each that the Bennet sisters had. Often lower class women would take positions as servants to earn money for their dowries hoping to save fifty or so pounds for their marriage.
Why did Elizabeth Bennet talk about a man marrying her (or one of her sisters) for fifty pounds a year when she had a dowry of one thousand pounds?
Fifty pounds a year was the amount of interest income one thousand pound would earn a year. Frequently a dowry would be invested and the yearly income would provide the wife’s spending money.
What was a marriage settlement and how was it worked out?
A marriage settlement was a prenuptial agreement written by lawyers representing both families. Both families would have to accept the agreement.
It specified the financial arrangements of the marriage. These included what, if anything, the two families would contribute to the couple, what the woman’s spending money (pin money) would be, what amount would be set aside for daughters’ dowries and establishing younger sons, (Only the lump sum was set up, the distribution would be decided later), an provisions for a woman’s widowhood, through establishing an annuity called a jointure. The process was expensive and only about ten percent of marriages had them.
What were the consequences of eloping?
Eloping would tarnish a young woman’s reputation, but that might be the least of her problems. There would be no marriage settlement which meant there would be no legal provision for her widowhood, her spending money 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.
How badly damaged would Miss Darcy’s reputation be damaged 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, there would be little damage done. If it became widely known, the impact could be far-reaching.
What did being ‘compromised’ mean? Could a woman really trick a wealthy gentleman into marrying her by permitting him to compromise her?
Compromise was largely about acting in a way that convinced onlookers that the couple was engaged. Being along together in a carriage, or behind closed doors in a room together, exchanging letters all were possibly compromising behaviors. But, 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 reason appearing engaged caused trouble was that once a couple was engaged, premarital sex was likely. Thus her reputation was compromised. An honorable man might 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.
What was the problem with secret engagements? In Sense and Sensibility, why didn’t Edward Ferrars break things off with Lucy Steele when he fell in love with Elinor?
First, secret engagements were considered scandalous moral lapses. Since marriage was the backbone of society, one’s marriage state (unmarried, engaged, married or widowed—divorced was not really an option) was an important piece of public record. Carrying on a secret engagement was tantamount to lying to society at large.
Second, an engagement was effectively a legal contract, one which could result in legal action for breach of contract. Secret engagements presented a host of difficulties in managing the legal aspects of the contract.
Third, in the era, it was really all about the betrothal. A promise to marry was all but as good as a legal marriage. So keeping the engagement secret was like keeping a marriage secret.
Moreover, since a betrothal was nearly a marriage, many couples anticipated their vows—one-third of brides went to the altar pregnant. If an engagement was broke, most would assume that the woman had compromised her virtue with her intended, and her reputation would be ruined. An honorable man—and a man’s honor was hugely important in those days—would not break an engagement and cause such harm to a lady.
If a betrothed couple decided they were not compatible, what happened to the couples reputations?
An 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. Reasons like parental objections or changes in fortune that left one person in reduced circumstances would be far more socially acceptable reasons for breaking a betrothal.
When Darcy proposed to Elizabeth the first time, she had no idea he had any interest in her. Could this have actually happened?
It could have. Rules of the day insisted neither should openly declare their feelings for the other until a proposal was actually offered. To make matters worse, both men and women were strongly cautioned to be very discrete in their interactions with one another and they would always be chaperoned when together. All that together makes it possible that a young woman could be completely surprised by a proposal.
If you enjoyed this post, check out my new book, Courtship and Marriage in Jane Austen’s World, available this week in ebook, and the paperback will be available soon. It details the customs, etiquette and legalities of courtship and marriage during the regency era and how it relates to all of Jane Austen’s works.
Courtship and Marriage in Jane Austen’s World Book Blurb:
Jane Austen’s books are full of hidden mysteries for the modern reader. Why on earth would Elizabeth Bennet be expected to consider a suitor like foolish Mr. Collins in Pride and Prejudice? Would Lydia’s ‘infamous elopement’ truly have ruined her family and her other sisters’ chances to marry? Why were the Dashwood women thrown out of their home after Mr. Dashwood’s death in Sense and Sensibility, and what was the problem with secret engagements anyway? And then there are settlements, pin money, marriage articles and many other puzzles for today’s Austen lovers.
Customs have changed dramatically in the two centuries since Jane Austen wrote her novels. Beyond the differences in etiquette and speech, words that sound familiar to us are often misleading. References her original readers would have understood leave today’s readers scratching their heads and missing important implications.
Take a step into history with Maria Grace as she explores the customs, etiquette, and legalities of courtship and marriage in Jane Austen’s world. Packed with information and rich with detail from Austen’s novels, Maria Grace casts a light on the sometimes bizarre rules of Regency courtship and unravels the hidden nuances in Jane Austen’s works.
Meet Maria Grace
Though Maria Grace has been writing fiction since she was ten years old, those early efforts happily reside in a file drawer and are unlikely to see the light of day again, for which many are grateful. After penning five file-drawer novels in high school, she took a break from writing to pursue college and earn her doctorate in Educational Psychology. After 16 years of university teaching, she returned to her first love, fiction writing.
She has one husband, two graduate degrees and two black belts, three sons, four undergraduate majors, five nieces, six new novels in the works, attended seven period balls, sewn eight Regency era costumes, shared her life with nine cats through the years and published her tenth book last year.
You can connect with Maria at the following places:
I hope you found this post as intriguing as I did!
Do you have a question that you want to ask Maria regarding her upcoming book? Drop her a line in the comments below and ask your question(s) or just drop by and say hello and give us your thoughts about her newest release.