Thursday, September 8, 2016

'Courtship and Marriage in Jane Austen's World' by Maria Grace ~ Dos and Do Nots of Courtship ~ An Excerpt

Hello, Friends! Today, I'm delighted to have Maria Grace visiting today with her new book Courtship & Marriage in Jane Austen's World! Courtship in the late 1700s, early 1800s was so fascinating and so hard for us to wrap our modern minds around. It is Maria Grace's wish to help us understand what it was like in Jane Austen's World!

     Thanks, Candy, for inviting me to share about courtship and marriage in Jane Austen’s day. Customs have changed so dramatically in the two centuries since Jane Austen wrote her novels that things which were obvious to her original readers leave readers today scratching their heads and missing important implications. It’s amazing how much of Austen’s stories we miss not understanding the context she wrote it.
     One of the most bewildering aspects of courtship in the regency era were the bewildering rules of conduct young men and women were subject to.   This excerpt from Courtship and Marriage in Jane Austen’s World explains some of those restrictions and the reasons behind them, and the dangers of being compromised.

Dos and Do Nots of Courtship

     Many of the rules governing conduct in courtship helped squelch the possibilities of romantic passion. These included forbidding the use of Christian names, paying compliments, driving in carriages alone together, correspondence, and any kind of intimate contact.    
     If a couple was observed violating any of them, onlookers would immediately assume a proposal had been offered and accepted. Even mild displays of friendliness could inspire speculations about a possible offer of marriage. Thus, in Sense and Sensibility, many assumed Marianne and Willoughby were engaged because of their very open affectionate behavior.
     A mistaken assumption of betrothal could be very dangerous to a woman’s reputation. Betrothed couples often engaged in sexual behaviors. If a woman was assumed engaged then found not to be, many would assume she had compromised her virtue and her reputation might be ruined.  (This was the crux of the favorite romance novel plot point, a young woman being ‘compromised’)  An honorable man might make her an offer of marriage at that point to preserve her reputation. Willoughby’s bringing Marianne to tour Allenham without a chaperone compromises her in Sense and Sensibility. Running off with Wickham compromised Lydia’s reputation in Pride and Prejudice. That neither man is eager to marry the lady they compromised reveals much about their character.


     Young, unmarried women were never alone in the company of a gentleman (save family and close family friends) or at any social event, without a chaperone. Who knew what kind of ideas she or he could get!
      Except for a walk to church or a park in the early morning, a lady could not even walk without an appropriate companion. (Of course, a potential suitor would not be appropriate!)  Though a lady might drive her own carriage or ride horseback, if she left the family estate, a groom must attend her.  
     Under no circumstances could a lady call upon a gentleman alone unless consulting him on business matters.
     In Emma, we see the ‘close friend or family’ clause invoked. Mr. Knightly has been a family friend for at least a decade. He and Emma are allowed liberties to walk and talk and keep company together because of the closeness of their connections. In Mansfield Park, Edmund is also permitted the same liberties with Fanny Price for the same reasons.  She is family and not considered a marriageable partner in any case because of her low status (being a cousin did not disqualify her from being an eligible match.) Edward shares unchaperoned moments with Elinor in Sense and Sensibility because his is considered a family connection through his sister, their half-brother’s wife. In contrast, in Pride and Prejudice, Elizabeth walking in the woods at Rosings Park with Mr. Darcy or Col. Fitzwilliam—with whom she has no such connections—is highly improper.


     Naturally, all forms of touching were kept to a minimum. Sakes alive, what kind of unrestrained behavior might that lead to?  
     Putting a lady's shawl about her shoulders, or assisting her to mount a horse, enter a carriage or climb stairs were acceptable. A gentleman might take a lady's arm through his, to support her while out walking. 
     However, he must never try to take her hand, even to shake it friendly-like. If he did, she must immediately withdraw it with a strong air of disapproval, whether she felt it or not.  When Marianne tried to shake Willoughby’s hand in public in Sense and Sensibility it was really quite forward and even shocking public behavior.


     Conversations had to be extremely discreet, leaving much to be interpreted from facial expressions alone. Even smiles and laughs were proscribed by many advice writers.

There is another Character not quite so criminal, yet not less ridiculous; which is, that of a good humour'd Woman, one who thinketh she must always be in a Laugh, or a broad Smile, because Good-Humour is an obliging Quality… . (The Whole Duty of a Woman, 1737)
     Mr. Elton’s riddle about courtship in Emma is a good example of the kind of roundabout, overtly subtle conversation that could come about because of these rules. And we all know how well that turned out for him.

A Few Good Reasons

     Not surprisingly, it was difficult for either party to truly discern the feelings and intentions of the other. Austen used this point to great effect in Emma regarding Harriet Smith’s propensity to see acts of affection from all her ‘loves.’ 
      Only at the moment an offer of marriage was made could a man clearly declare his feelings and a woman hers in return. Thus, poor Elizabeth Bennet was shocked by Mr. Darcy’s declaration: “My feelings will not be repressed. You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you.”
     Although it all sounds laughable to modern viewpoints, there were some genuinely good reasons for all of the restrictions. While enlightenment philosophy did alter some perspectives about marriage, some things did not change. 
     At the core, marriage was still a business arrangement. Men and women both brought their assets to the arrangement. Property, dowries and fortunes, trades, skills (including those of keeping house), social connections (of course those might be good or bad, just saying…) and the ability to provide heirs were all very real commodities in the transaction.  Equitable compensation was needed for all involved, including the extended families.
     In light of all the fuss, modern minds might argue in favor of simply staying single and being done with it all. But no, that would make it all far too easy. During the era, staying single was definitely not a good alternative either. 
     Society did not approve of the unmarried adult. Spinsters were considered the bane of society, and bachelors were looked down upon as still not quite fully participating in adult life. (Vickery, 2009) A great deal rode on establishing oneself in a comfortable married state.
     If this weren’t enough reason for anxiety, add to it that divorce was nearly impossible to obtain. Essentially, one had only one opportunity to ‘get it right’ as it were. Granted, widowhood was common enough, and some married multiple times because of it, but it probably wasn’t a good thing to count on.
     No wonder parents were in a dither that their children might make a tragic mistake choosing a marriage partner. With so much on the line, can you really blame them for supporting rules designed to keep runaway passions at bay and encourage level-headed decision making?

If you enjoyed this post, check out my new book, Courtship and Marriage in Jane Austen’s World, available at Amazon, Nook and KOBO. 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 by Maria Grace 

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.   

Non fiction

Available at: AmazonB&NKobo

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FTC Disclaimer: Link to Amazon. I am an Amazon Associate. Should you purchase a copy of the book through the link provided, I will receive a small commission. Thanks! 

About the Author 

Maria Grace has her PhD in Educational Psychology and is a 16 year veteran of the university classroom where she taught courses in human growth and development, learning, test development and counseling. None of which have anything to do with her undergraduate studies in economics/sociology/managerial studies/behavior sciences. 

She blogs at Random Bits of Fascination (, mainly about her fascination with Regency-era history and its role in her fiction. Her newest novel, The Trouble to Check Her, was released in March, 2016. Her books, fiction and nonfiction, are available at all major online booksellers. 

Thank you so much, Maria Grace, for stopping by here today! Congratulations on the release of your new book. I find this subject very interesting! And I'm so glad I'm not living in such a time!  ;)

How about you? Do you find this subject interesting? Please, leave a comment and tell us what you think! 

**I noticed Misty @ The Book Rat currently has a giveaway going on, so hurry over there for a chance to win a copy! 

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