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Pride and Prejudice CH 22
Great Expectations CH 44
in 19th century England
During the 1800's marriage played a very important role in maintaining
social status and dictating the lives of women. The average age of
a newly wed woman was around the age of 20, but some could be as young
as 15 or 16, while the average age of a man entering matrimony could be
as old as 30 to 35. To a woman growing up during this time period
marriage was something that was expected and needed in terms of support
in their later years in life, therefor very rarely was a man denied in
proposal if he was in decent social class, and had ample income.
A woman who intended to stay single during the
19th century would receive social disapproval and pity, and would have
to depend on a generous brother to support her for the rest of her life.
A woman who chose this path could not have children, or would be considered
a whore, and her children would be social outcasts. These women also
could not live with a man other than a relative, and could only get paid
for cheap labor in the factories after the industrial revolution, or as
a maid in the home of a wealthy family.
If a woman opted to marry, which was the much
more popular decision, she was forced to give up all property to her husband,
as well as swear away all rights of her body to her husband. If the
situation arose where the woman was being beaten, or abused in another
way, she could do nothing about it because of a law that allowed men to
control their wives by using "necessary force". Married men during
this time also did not have to be faithful to their wives, they had every
right to visit the Brothel, or even keep a mistress in the same house.
Divorce during the 19th century was nearly impossible
for a woman to obtain, and was reasonably easy for a man to obtain.
In order for a man to divorce his wife, all her needed to do was to hire
an attorney and argue that his wife was having an affair, and generally
the divorce was granted. If a woman wanted to obtain a divorce from
her husband she had to find the means of hiring a lawyer, most likely from
a brother or wealthy relative who could pay for her legal fees. After
this she then had to prove, not only that her husband was having an affair,
but that he was committing, "incest, cruelty, bigamy, or desertion."
As you can see divorce was extremely difficult to achieve.
If a woman could not handle her marriage situation,
she might try to flee from her household. If this happened, a husband
had the legal right to summon the police to find her, and he then could
decide if he wanted her jailed for escaping, much like slaves in New England.
The first step towards female equality was the
marriage property act of 1882. This act allowed women to keep any
inheritance they gained after the death of a father, and also allowed them
to keep any wages earned in factories, etc. After this act many women
could see the alternatives of living independently, unmarried because they
then had means to support themselves, and lead a prosperous life.
in the life of Jane Austen and Charles Dickens
Marriage was not in the forefront of Jane Austen's life. Her
main focus was to create literature, and live in the countryside.
Jane lived her entire life as a single woman, but by choice rather than
from a lack of suitors. In 1805 Jane went on a trip to the
countryside with her other and sister, and met a man with whom she fell
in love with. This love was shattered though when Jane caught word
that he had died suddenly in an accident, and so she went back to
her writing. A few years later Jane was proposed to by Harris
Bigg-Wither, a brother of some of her dearest friends, and a very wealthy
land owner. Jane accepted, but the very next day took back her acceptance,
and lived the rest of her life writing and living with her favorite brother
in the house she grew up in. As it appears, Jane believed in marriage
for love, and not for wealth.
After writing several successful sketches Charles Dickens met his
wife Catherine Hogarth in 1834, and married her in 1836. The Dickens
marriage was very happy in the first few years, but then turned troublesome
after several children were born. Catherine began to lack energy,
and was not maintaining the household as well as Charles had hoped.
Catherine's sister Georgianna moved into the family home right around this
time, and began to adopt most of the household chores until finally she
overtook the entire running of the household. The marriage remained
troublesome through these times, and then fell apart at the death of Georgianna.
When this happened Dickens was completely detached from his wife but living
in the same home. It was around this same time that Dickens met an
actress named Ellen Ternan, with whom he acted with in a play. Her
maintained a close secret relationship with her until Catherine discovered
a bracelet that was intended for Ellen. Upon this discovery Dickens
officially split from his wife, taking all but the oldest of the children
with him, and maintained a very close relationship with Ellen until the
day of his death.