Saturday, June 17, 2023

Victorian Ideas for Choosing a Mate, Courtship, and Proposals

This is my last installment of Victorian etiquette. Today, we'll look at the views of choosing a mate during this era and marriage proposals. I’ve added my own reactions throughout.

Natural selection based on Darwin was quite popular in Victorian times.

Taking from a quote from Professor Hill's Guide to Love and Marriage on how to choose a mate based on natural selection, “In the first place, observation proves that selections made in nature by the beasts of the field and the fouls of the air, of couples which pair, the male is always the strongest, generally the largest, the most brave, and always the leader. The female follows, trusting to her companion, leaving him to fight the heavy battles, apparently confident in his bravery, strength, and wisdom. It's if nature teaches anything, it is what observation and experience in civilized life has also proven correct, that have a husband and wife are rightly mated, the husband should represent the positive—the physical forces, the intellectual and the strongly loving; while the wife will represent the negative—the sympathetic, the spiritual, and the affectionate.”

And he goes on to say things like the husband is a natural protector of his family and must be brave so he can defend his companion. He has to be wise. And he should be true and devoted to his wife and delight in being her guardian.

While the wife is to be confident in her husband's strength and wisdom, and always yield to his protection. They’ll both be happy in exercising the prerogatives which belong naturally to the guardian and protector and she in her confidence will love and respect her companion whom she can implicitly trust.

That's a pretty big order with no spiritual basis as a foundation. We know the Scripture speaks to this in Ephesians 5. But as always during Victorian times, the intelligence and strength of women was marginalized.


Dr. Hill’s list of how to choose your marriage partner.


1)        Marry someone whom you've learned from others to have a good reputation. Then spend time with them to confirm that reputation.

2)        Marry someone equal to you in societal position. If there's a difference, let the husband's position be superior to the wife. It's difficult for a wife to love and honor a husband who's of a lower social standing.


Physical features and character traits to pursue or avoid in a mate.

It appears those who created this list are trying to create children that are both a more desirable human physically and temperamentally than the present generation.

1) They should be neither very tall nor very short.

2) Their eyes should be neither very black or very blue.

3) The hair is neither very black nor very red.

4) The mixed types (like light hair and dark eyes or dark hair and light eyes) may marry those who are who are similar in form, complexion, and temperament to themselves.

I found that just weird. We all know the heart wants what the heart wants. Don't all our novels have men who are tall, dark, and handsome and women who are just perfect in every way? I digress.

More rules for creating the perfect match.

1) Bright red hair and a florid (flush) complexion indicate an excitable temperament.

According to this description, if you're redheaded and blushed, you're automatically labeled angry and unpleasant. Thus, it is recommended red-heads marry people with jet black hair or brunette.

I suppose they think they would be calmer and could help the red-head with their temper.

2) Now if you have gray, blue,black or hazel eyes, you should not marry those of the same color.

This is kind of weird when some nationalities only have majority blue eyes or brown eyes.

It is adamantly suggested that, if the eye color is really bright, definitely marry somebody with a different eye color. Should green-eyed people marry brown, and dark blue marry brown or light blue, perhaps?

3) The tall and heavy set should marry someone thin and sparse, while those who are short and thick should choose a different build for a mate.

 This next one is stranger still.

4) If you're thin, boney, and wiry with a prominent Roman nose, cold blooded individual, then you should marry a round featured, warm hearted, and emotional individual. Thus, those opposites will complement each other.

5) The irritable and nervous should unite with the sympathetic, the slow, and the quiet. This assures that the stolid will be prompted by the nervous companion and the excitable will be quieted by the gentleness of the less nervous.

6) The quick motioned, rapidly speaking person should marry someone with calm and deliberate attributes. Again, the opposites complementing one another.

7) The very thin haired, soft and delicate skin should not marry someone just like them. While the curly haired should unite with the straight and smooth hair.


8) If you have a thin long face, marry someone who has round features, and the flat nose should marry the full Roman.

9) If the woman inherits the features and peculiarities of her father, then she must marry a man who partakes of the characteristics of his mother.

Are they suggesting that a plain woman should marry a man with more feminine features so their children will be lovely?

10) Lastly, Dr. Hill suggests that if none of one’s features dominates but are, rather, medium or average looking, it's permissible to marry whoever you like, thus canceling his previous rules.

Now a few pointers on courtship

There were only a few things you could do while courting in order to maintain proper decorum.

Evenings entertainment such as the theater, a party, and other social events, or taking a carriage ride or going for a walk are acceptable with a chaperone. Each of these gives the couple a chance to get to know each better with an attitude toward a possible match.

And the gentleman should never stay at a lady’s home until late hours. It will offend her parents and is extremely ungentlemanly.

How does one know whether a gentleman likes you? Well that hasn't changed over the centuries.

A gentleman shows a woman special and undivided attention, which makes everybody presume he likes her. Hopefully she sees that. He might also give her small gifts.

The lady herself will think after a bit maybe an engagement is coming along. Courtship was for the purpose of marriage, so no man or woman should enter it and lead the other on. They should break off the relationship quickly so the other may find a suitable mate. Unless of course, neither one of them wishes to marry, and they just like spending time together, then they may continue the relationship.

Popping the question without actually popping the question.

After a suitable length of time the gentleman can propose marriage. If he's a smart guy, he'll have figured out whether or not the lady likes him enough to say yes. But what if he’s not sure or too afraid to ask? Here are the ways they suggest to propose.

1) Write the lady making an offer and requesting a reply, especially if he's one who's afraid he won't say the right words. Or he can slip her a piece of paper and request in a very light-hearted way to respond with yes or no.

Doesn't that remind you of the junior high notes that boys and girls pass each other.

2) He could ask her a hypothetical question such as: If a man would ask you to marry him, what would you say? She might may laugh and say well it depends on when the time comes for the proposal. Then the ice is broken, and the gentleman can ask.

I suppose if she makes some off-handed comment about hoping it's not him, that'll answer his question, for sure.

3) He might jokingly say he might ask a lady one of these days, not a thousand miles away, to marry him, then ask her what she thinks her answer would be. She’d probably answer it might depend on who the lady is. Then he can in stages break through to finally getting up the nerve to ask.

Gentlemen being nervous about proposing has stood the test of time over the centuries, except now women can propose. Perhaps that makes things a bit easier.

I hope you've enjoyed my little journey through Victorian etiquette. These posts have only been a smattering of the in-depth rules that men and women in that time period had to learn. Not just the gentry, but the lower classes as well. Although the lower classes weren't as strict about some of the afore mentioned things over my six posts. But they still held on to some measure of decorum and expectations of good manners.


Do you know any funny courting rituals or physical features that were considered undesirable in a mate? Post in the comments.


Cindy Ervin Huff is an Award-winning author of Historical and Contemporary Romance. She loves infusing hope into her stories of broken people. She is addicted to reading and chocolate. Her idea of a vacation is visiting historical sites and an ideal date with her hubby of almost fifty years would be live theater.

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1 comment:

  1. Thank you for posting this morning. The rules were pretty much geared toward selecting an opposite of yourself, as I see it.