Weddings today are certainly different than they were in the Victorian era. Lately, ceremonies are all about gorgeous flowers, Insta-worthy décor, and finding the perfect hashtag.
But back then, there were lots of little social etiquette rules that must be followed, and though most of the customs are cringeworthy by today’s standards, they’re still worth examining.
Though it unearths some not-so-pretty facts from that time period, Therese makes it clear that she’s not judging Victorians. “They had 150 years less knowledge than we do,” she says.
“We have no right to rag on them for that. It’s far more interesting to me that, usually, when the Victorians had an offensive, crazy, sexist practice by today’s standards, they usually had a practical reason behind it.”
Read on for some of the most head-scratching pieces of marriage advice from the era, and the interesting rationales behind them!
First, downplay your talents
Victorian women didn’t have careers, but even in special cases where they had God-given talents – being an opera singer or writing children’s storybooks about the Bible – they weren’t considered marriage material, Oneill explains.
“For a wife to work was to declare that her husband was incompetent and could not provide for his family,” says Oneill.
Get “the talk” from mom on your wedding day
A proper Victorian lady wouldn’t be expecting anything more than a “lovely snuggle” on her wedding night, says Oneill, and if a courtship was done respectably, she adds, a newlywed wife and husband barely knew each other.
The (almost entirely male) marriage experts of the day were unanimous in the belief that “a mother was downright cruel to send her daughter off to her nuptial bed without telling her what awaited her,” says Oneill. They didn’t tell mothers what to say, Oneill adds, but they warned that a bride could be traumatized if unprepared.
Don’t make love purely for pleasure or fun
Doing so led to diseases like cancer, or at least that’s what some Victorian-era experts thought. “These doctors very seldom cited anything remotely connected to science for their beliefs, but they didn’t need to,” says Oneill.
“Most of the people who bought their books, thought being punished by God and nature for transgressing their designs made perfect sense.”
Don’t make love when you’re feeling absent-minded…
The thinking was that a child conceived during a less-than-exciting encounter would itself to be dull and absent-minded. “As evidence, they pointed to how many great men in history, like Da Vinci, were [illegitimates],” says Oneill. “As [illegitimates] it was assumed they were conceived in passion, making their father’s seed more acute than in normal situations.”
…or under the influence of alcohol
“It was even more dangerous to try and conceive if drunk,” says Oneill, “that’s how ‘idiocy and numerous nervous maladies’ were transferred to the child.”
Always look presentable for your husband
Women were encouraged to look fashionable, “but not too fashionable so that she strained her husband’s pocketbook or appeared to be putting on airs,” says Oneill. This included personal hygiene: Being tidy was expected, but being “too clean” could make others uncomfortable “to be in the presence of someone so fastidious.”