Essay, Research Paper
Our aim in this paper will be to analyze and discuss the different ways in which love and marriage were dealt with during the eighteenth century and to what extent these two terms were linked together or considered as opposite. To accomplish this matter we are going to focus our attention on several works that are representative from this period and that reflect in an accurate way the social mores and more specifically, marriage conventions and romantic love. Throughout this discussion we will be emphasizing the idea that marriage is represented in these works as an institution completely detached from love and that it pursues more than anything else economic purposes and an rising in the social hierarchy.
First of all we should account for the situation of English women during the eighteenth century, that despite several social improvements, continued having less rights or freedom than men within the family and marriage as an institution. Patriarchal forms were still a deep-rooted custom that ruled society, which was male-centered. Marriage was often forced on women as their only way of having a recognized position in society, but at the same time led them to slavery. Women?s property could be spent to the discretion of the husband as she was considered, together with all that she owned, a possession of the husband.
Significantly relevant is the fact that the convention of marriages arranged by parents was still widely accepted. Evidences of this aspect can be found in Goldsmith?s work She Stoops to Conquer. At the very beginning of the play Mr.Hardcastle expresses that he has already chosen a husband for his young daughter:
?Then to be plain with you, Kate, I expect the young gentleman I have chosen to be your husband from town this very day. I have his father?s letter, in which he informs me his son is set out, and that he intends to follow himself shortly after.?
Mr. Hardcastle later explains that he would never control her daughter?s choice, but in fact claims that Marlow ?(he)?s a man of excellent understanding? (p.4), this meaning that the young gentleman should be the right option for her. Despite her initial disagreement with the idea of this established encounter with the young boy, she finally accepts the meeting after her father?s exaltation of the young man?s virtues. She then joyfully declares: ?My dear papa, say no more (kissing his hand), he?s mine, I?ll have him!? (p.4). Later on in the play, Tony?s false directions lead Marlow and Hastings to the Hardcastle residence, where they believe they can lodge for a decent rate before continuing on to meet Mr. Hardcastle and his beautiful daughter at his estate. This ?inn? is actually Mr. Hardcastle mansion, but the travelers do not realize this since the mansion remarkably resembles an inn. Hastings is soon informed of his mistake when he meets Miss Neville, but the couple decides to leave Marlow in ignorance for the time being so that their plans for marriage will not be frustrated by his outrage and embarrassment.
In a similar way, in the novel Mary the Wrongs of Woman, Mary Wollstonecraft exposes this same tendency of arranged marriages, where love is forgotten and only the possible benefits that both parts can obtain from the union are taken into account. Hence, the way in which Darnford asserts ?my father and mother were people of fashion; married by their parents? (p.94) should not be taken as a striking statement for this matter was considered in the eighteenth century the usual procedure to follow . It is also important to remark that Mary loses her case because the judge considers that ?it was her duty to love and obey the man chosen by her parents and relations, who were qualified by their experience to judge better for her, than she could for herself ? (p.199). Therefore it is not stunning that the idea of marriage is often understood as a social custom generally detached from love.
This detachment not only concerns marriage directed by someone superior but also the economical benefits taken out of it. We can set an example in Henry Fielding?s Joseph Andrews, and more precisely in the chapters referring to the story of the young lovers Leonora and Horatio. With the appearance of Bellarmine, a fine ?gentleman who owned a Coach and Six? (p.135), breaking into Leonora?s life, she reconsiders her engagement with Horatio, who had ?not even a Pair? (p.138). Being a young and inexperienced girl, Leonora asks her aunt for some piece of advice relating her love affair and this one answers that without any doubt she should marry Bellarmine as he possesses all that Horatio lacks, that is, fine clothes, good looks, gallantry and above all fortune.
?I have lived longer in it than you, and I assure you there is not any thing worth our Regard besides Money: nor did I ever know one Person who married from other Considerations, who did not afterwards heartily repent it. Besides, if we examine the two Men, can you prefer a sneaking Fellow, who hath been bred at a University, to a fine Gentleman just come from his Travels??.
At first Leonora had appeared in the novel as a young girl madly in love with Horatio, and she even proclaimed that he was her lover or almost her husband (p.137). However, she does not doubt in accepting Bellarmine because of his wealthy position and the monetary benefits she would get from the matrimony, which would also imply her rising in the social scale. Together with this, the thought of marrying Bellarmine provokes a certain feeling of pride that will lead her to think that she could become the envy of the rest of society, although in the end her vacillation and folly will make her lose both suitors:
?How vast is the difference between being the Wife of a poor Counsellor, and the Wife of one of Bellarmine?s Fortune! If I marry Horatio, I shall triumph over no more than one Rival: but my marrying Bellarmine, I shall be the Envy of all my Acquaintance. What Happiness!?.
Marriage depending on monetary aspects can be easily understood if we bear in mind the role of women in the eighteenth century English society. We should consider the cases of Leonora, ?Daughter of a Gentleman of Fortune? (p.130) and Kate Hardcastle, who belongs to a high social status, as exceptional. For both of them marriage does not represent the only means of getting independence since they both have a certain fortune that could enable them either to remain in the same social status or marry some fine gentleman that could provide them a certain economic stability. However, even among the wealthy, marriage was primarily a business arrangement. In a similar way we should point at lower or middle class circles. Here money was a ?critical factor in getting a start in life by buying a shop or starting a business? and it was also ?inevitable that financial considerations should continue to play a very large part in marriage plans? . In this sense we should now refer to Defoe?s Moll Flanders, where the heroine moves within this environment and comes to express: ?[...] that marriages were the consequences of politick schemes for forming interests, and carrying on business, and that Love had no share, or but very little in the matter.?(p.83).
Moll Flanders is a story about the evolution of a woman from a low to a mid-class status. Since she was a child her only desire was to become a ?gentlewoman? and her only means to ascend in the social scale was to take advantage of the opportunities that life offered her, which are all summed up in one word: marriage. Nevertheless, marriages took place among people belonging to the same social class and this is why Moll Flanders has to pretend to be richer than she really is in order to reach her aim. This can be observed in many different passages all along Moll?s life, when she ?[...] took care to make the world take me as something more than I was? (p.135).
It is clear that Moll?s ideas on marriage depend more on monetary affairs than in love ones, and that her aim in life is getting a better social position. After her second husband dies, she goes to the Mint where she meets a new acquaintance, a widow who would help her to make her husband-to-be believe that she owns a fortune of 1500 pounds, otherwise he would not accept her for not belonging to his same status . It is for this same reason that in She Stoops to Conquer, Marlow rejects Kate Hardcastle when he is still mistaking her for a simple barmaid instead of a lady:
?But to be plain with you, the difference of our birth, fortune and education makes an honourable connection impossible; and I can never harbour a thought of seducing simplicity that trusted in my honour, or bringing ruin upon one whose only fault was being too lovely.?
Nevertheless, the reader should not be mistaken by generalizing marriage as a term opposed to love. Pure love moved by passion and true feelings did exist and not necessarily linked to extramarital relations. She Stoops to Conquer sets this example on the figures of Hastings and Neville. The young lovers are truly in love although they are still conditioned by money in a way. They have to hide their love from Mrs. Hardcastle, as she is the proprietor of Neville?s jewels, and to obtain her wealth, Constance must marry whomever Mrs. Hardcastle pleases, unless the man refuses. To keep the money in the family Mrs. Hardcastle wishes for Neville to marry her son Tony. However, the lovers proclaim several times their love disregarding money. During a conversation that both hold, Miss Neville states she would rather marry him once she owns all her jewels so that they can secure their future: ?The instant they (jewels) are put into my possession you shall find me ready to make them and myself yours?. But Hastings exclaims: ?Perish the baubles! Your person is all I desire? (p.19). Even when the young lady assures that ?in the moment of passion, fortune may be despised, but it ever produces a lasting repentance? Hastings insists on letting their feelings flow: ?Perish fortune. Love and contempt will increase what we possess beyond a monarch?s revenue. Let me prevail? (p.56).
Mary narrates a similar story in Mary the Wrongs of Woman. Peggy is married to Daniel, a sailor. Money was not involved in their marriage but pure love and passion. When Daniel dies Peggy is forced to live on his wages and later on she has to earn a living by doing some hard physical work. She laments the loss of her husband not because of the work she has to do now to sustain the family for ?it was pleasant to work for her children? (p.132) but because of her broken heart without his beloved. ?Providence to have let him come back without a leg or an arm, it would have been the same thing to her – for she did not love him because he maintained them – no; she had hands of her own.? (p.132).
Nevertheless, it should not be striking that eighteenth century women looked for husbands as a means of rising their social position and their wealth, as they hardly had any other way of obtaining it, disregarding love. And this is Moll?s resolution: ?[...] I was resolved now to be married or nothing, and to be well married or not at all.? (p.77). Working women were not accepted by society and the only jobs that they could get were those implying hard physical work (servitude) or prostitution. Besides, the legal system in this period did not allow women to inherit anything when the spouses died, all the money passing from father to son/son-in-law.
Moll Flanders chose her life as a prostitute and states that it caused her all the misery and destruction she will suffer later on in her life:
?Well, let her life have been the way it would then, it was certain that my life was very uneasy to me; for I liv?d, as I have said, but in the worst sort of whoredom, and as I cou?d expect no Good of it, so really no good issue came and all my seeming prosperity wore off and ended in misery and distruction.?
Her choice of going to whoredom, however, was only because she felt the need to survive. All of Moll?s subsequent sexual relations will have a monetary dimension. Moll does not even try to make a distinction between sex and money and takes for granted that you must make a financial assessment before going to bed with anyone. Sex is therefore a transaction or rather an investment. In this sense she adds up whether she has more money or less after each relationship throughout her life. In the first periods of her life she exploits her sexuality for the purpose of profit. Later on, when her beauty vanishes, she has to move towards crime as her only means of life. Therefore we could say that her life moves simultaneously between two levels: the sexual and the financial .
While Moll makes her choice of life, Mary Wollstonecraft shows in Mary the Wrongs of Woman, the misery of women who prostituted themselves because they did not have any other option. Jemina is a clear example who, after having been raped by her master at the age of sixteen, will be used by men for the rest of her life. She
works as a servant, becomes a mistress and then a washerwoman to survive because she has no other choice. She feels then a slave without any control over her own body, condemned to remain static in this social position . When talking about her job as a washerwoman she affirms:
?[...]that this was a wretchedness of situation peculiar to my sex. A man with half my industry, and, I may say, abilities, could have procured a decent livelihood. [...] whilst I, [...] was cast aside as the filfth of society. Condemned to labour, like a machine, only to earn bread, and scarcely that [...]?
In this paragraph Jemina explains that after being obliged to maintain an illicit sexual intercourse she lost her virtue and with it all her rights as a woman in society. This leads us a to the question of women?s virtue and how to preserve it. Virtue was one of the main qualities a woman should possess in order to get married. This idea of chastity and feminine purity was so strong that at the end of the century it was commonly believed that decent women had no sexual desires at all . In this respect, young, inexperienced and chaste characters like Fanny Goodwill (in Joseph Andrews) are opposed to others like Mary, who acts upon her own sexual desires, or Moll, who is depicted as enjoying her trade at least during a period of her life. Thus, Moll makes no resistance to her suitors, not even with her first lover, the young brother, who cunningly persuades her to have a sexual relation with him: ?For God knows that I made no resistance to him while he only held me in his arms and kissed; indeed I was too well pleased with it to resist him much? (p. 46).
Hence the social and sexual mores between women and men were not equal when applied to both parts separately. For instance, the disparity between male and female chastity can be clearly observed in Joseph Andrews. Thus, when Joseph, a servant, appears in the novel defending his virtue and chastity from the advances of Lady Booby, the whole scene becomes a parody. And the Lady even talks about the non-existence of man?s virtue:
?Did ever Mortal hear of a Man?s Virtue! Did ever the greatest Man pretend to any of this Kind! Will Magistrates who punish Lewdness, or Parsons, who preach against it, make any scruple of committing it? And a Boy, a Stripling have the Confidence to talk of his Virtue??
The double standard that demands chastity on women but not on men, together with the oppression over women, who were considered as a mere possession of their husbands, induces Mary to declare that when one ?is born a woman? one is ?born to suffer? (p.181). This leads us to the conclusion that marriage in the eighteenth century did not go together with love, moreover they were considered opposed terms most of the times. ?A woman would only be expected to maintain; yes, barely grant a subsistence, to a woman rendered odious to habitual intoxication: but who would expect him, or think it possible to love her?? (Mary the Wrongs of Woman, p. 154). The relevance of this remark lays in the depiction Mary gives of her marriage. She describes the lack of love that runs through it, at the same time transforming it into a general declaration that concerns every marriage in that period. The statement made by the lady who owns the shop where Mary hides from George Vernables is also notable, as she does not believe that Mary can get away from her husband because ?when a woman was once married, she must bear everything? (p. 170).
All in all we could conclude our essay saying that through all the examples we have analyzed, the separation between love and marriage is clear. In most of the cases women found in marriage the only possible escape from the patriarchal forms embodied in the father?s figure. It was also the only means to achieve a higher position in the social scale and a certain economic independence and stability. However, the existence of arranged marriages and consequently the lack of love, turned matrimony into a prison where women were locked. A male-ruled world transformed women into virtual slaves that had no rights, and the cases where marriage was the result of a true and passionate love can be counted for as exceptional.
q Wollstonecraft, M., Mary The Wrongs of Woman (1976) Oxford World?s Classics.
q Fielding, J., Joseph Andrews (1999) Penguin Classics.
q Defoe, D., Moll Flanders (1978) Penguin English Library.
q Goldsmith, O., She Stoops to Conquer (1991) Dover Thrift Editions.
q Stone, L. The Family, Sex and Marriage in England 1500-1800, (1979) Pelikan Books.
q Ty, E. Unsex?d Revolutionaries: Five Women Novelists of the 1790?s. (1993) University of Toronto Press, Toronto.
q Spencer, J., The Rise of the Woman Novelist: From Aphra Behn to Jane Austen (1987) Basil Blackwell, Oxford.