Love and Marriage

A history of marriage in Great Britain and the United States from the Early Modern Period (1500) to the present (2014).

This timeline traces the shifting meanings and cultural functions of love and marriage through an archive of legal, religious, and literary or cultural texts. The material here was curated and organized by the students of a Vanderbilt University Women's and Gender Studies first-year seminar.

1500-01-01 00:00:00

Your Love Is Better Than Wine

The book Song of Songs from the Hebrew Bible was written by King Solomon in the late 6th century.

1530-01-01 23:54:17

History of Divorce in England

Road to Divorce by Lawrence Stone

1549-01-01 00:00:00

A Tudor Marriage

Marriage Service from the 1549 Book of Common Prayer

1611-01-10 23:54:17

Exit, pursued by bear

Some time early in 1611, William Shakespeare's play The Winter's Tale makes its debut onstage

1611-02-07 15:44:31

Inter-assured of the Mind

John Donne writes "A Valedictions: Forbidding Mourning" for his wife before leaving on a business trip.

1633-04-01 00:00:00

Pre-Marital Sex

This is a poem to a lover, penned well before the age of cohabitation

1633-04-20 00:00:00

A Sin, Nor Shame, Nor loss of Maidenhead

. In “The Flea,” Donne is trying to get a woman to sleep with him before marriage. He points out a flea, which “has sucked me first, and now sucks thee … [thus] in this flea our two bloods mingled be” (Lines 3-4). Donne then explains how the flea has enjoyed their bloods mingling but the woman denies that to him. She is reluctant to engage in sex before marriage, so Donne continues with his argument by saying that if the mingling of the two of them inside the flea is not “A sin, nor shame, nor loss of maidenhead” (Line 6) than an actual mingling would not be any worse. He goes so far as to point out that the flea is able to enjoy the woman “before he woo” (Line 7) implying that he also does not need to court the woman in order to sleep with her. This poem, although humorous, portrays the attitudes of love and courtship at this time. Women were still expected to wait until marriage to have sex, but men could do whatever they pleased.

1688-01-02 21:52:32

Advice to a Daughter

"a Wife is to thank God her Husband hath Faults" (40)

1712-10-01 20:53:06

This duty of love is mutual

Puritan clergyman Benjamin Wadsworth writes his book A Well-Ordered Family with a chapter "About the Duties of Husbands and Wives"

1753-01-01 14:39:10

Marriage Act: A Good Thing?

Lord Hardwicke's Marriage Act or "An Act or the Better Preventing of Clandestine Marriage"

1754-10-21 21:07:05

Lord Hardwicke's Marriage Act

This Act was the first law in England that made mandatory a formal marriage ceremony.

1764-01-05 23:54:17

Reflections on the Marriage Act

"Reflections on the Marriage Act" was written by an unknown author in support of the Marriage Act of 1753.

1766-01-01 02:52:06

"Sermons to Young Women"

James Fordyce publishes "Sermons to Young Woman," which begins to influence gender roles in literature (ex: "Pride and Prejudice"). It's purpose was to act as a guide in explaining how women were supposed to traditionally act and behave in English society. (These "womanly" views are challenged later in history as women gain freedom.)

1782-01-31 03:34:29

Gretna Green Marriages

"Then Opinion of learned Scotch Counsel on Gretna Green Marriages" by Walter Ruddiman, from the Edinburgh Magazine

1784-01-01 00:00:00

The Original Las Vegas

"Then I to London shall return; / For tho' not yet sixteen, / I'll danger for a husband spurn, / And drive to Gretna Green" (16).

1786-12-05 20:04:42

"Thoughts on Marriage" for a Lady

"Suitableness in temper, education, and the means of living, are solid foundations of happiness..."

1790-01-01 21:52:32

Women are NOTHING without wealth.

The social ramifications of wealth played a key role in shaping marriage in England in the early 19th Century.

1790-08-15 20:20:12

He married me, as he has done many others

Rebecca Random writes a letter to her mother apologizing for eloping in Gretna Green. She states that she is coming home because her new husband "is a mere fortune-hunter" (355).

1792-01-10 23:54:17

Killin' it, Mary

Mary Wollstonecraft's "A Vindication of the Rights of Women" is a feminist article arguing women's rationality and equality.

1796-01-01 00:00:00

Her Price Is Far Above Rubies

The "Sermons to Young Women" is a compilation of sermons compiled by the clergyman James Fordyce, who was inspired by "an unfeigned regard for the female sex" and a "fervent zeal for the best interests of society" (3).

1800-01-10 23:54:17

A Rich Father's Remorse

This is a true story about a father who disowns his daughter and gives away his granddaughter after he learns that his daughter has eloped with and married his coachman.

1803-11-15 00:00:00

Combined Age: 20.

A Young Man was forced to marry a 13 Year Old Cousin, and he seems to be perfectly okay with it.

1813-01-01 00:00:00

Love is dangerous

"He began to feel the danger of paying Elizabeth too much attention" (Pride and Prejudice, p. 57)

1813-01-05 23:54:17

Pride and Prejudice

Pride and Prejudice, written by Jane Austin, was first published in 1813.

1813-01-24 17:22:12

A Husband is a Belonging

"When she is secure of him, there will be leisure for falling in love as much as she chuses" (23)

1813-01-28 00:00:00

So Much Love and Eloquence Awaited Her

"I am not romantic, you know. I never was. I ask only a comfortable home..." (120)

1813-12-01 23:45:39

A Formal Introduction

"But consider your daughters. Only think what an establishment it would be for one of them . . . Indeed you must go, for it will be impossible for us to visit him, if you do not."

1813-12-01 23:45:39

Denial Following Rejection

"As I must therefore conclude that you are not serious in your rejection of me, I shall choose to attribute it to your wish of increasing my love by suspense, according to the usual practice of elegant females."

1815-02-01 00:00:00

Conversations on Matrimony

The second sentence of this novel parallels Jane Austen's satirical argument in the first sentence of Pride and Prejudice

1823-04-12 00:00:00

"Gretna Green; or, Marriage Fees"

"Gretna Green; or, Marriage Fees" is a poem that discusses the difficulties of expensive marriage fees, which prompts the couple to elope. It also alludes to the Marriage Act of 1753 with it's criticism of "hateful banns / and hateful licenses and hard consentings." Gretna Green represents an escape from the legal and parental regulations in England. In Pride and Prejudice, Lydia and Wickham elope in Gretna Green. In both the poem and the novel, the couples' marriages end happily, despite the negative stigma surrounding women that elope.

1825-12-20 15:50:13

Pass Over a Stream and Do as You Please

In this article from The Kaleidoscope, the author says, "if it be for the public interest to prevent clandestine marriages on one side of the Tweed, is it not equally so on the other? You take infinite pains to guard against the rashness and folly of youth, so apt to be led away by the headlong passions; but, if they choose to pass over a small stream, you leave them to do as they please." This article highlights the negligence of many people. Similarly to Lydia and Wickham's elopement in Pride and Prejudice, the act is viewed as scandalous but there is little done to prevent it from happening.

1839-02-01 00:00:00

Expectations of obedience

Explains the use of the word obey in the marriage ceremony and the expectation that women should remain forever loyal to their husbands.

1840-02-01 00:00:00

Thy Desire Shall be To Thy Husband, and He Shall Rule Over Thee

This article begins with the question, "Ought women to interfere in the political affairs of their country?" The author describes the process by which God created women; removing a rib from Adam. He claims that because they are of the same flesh, no one can argue for the inequality of the genders. He then explains how women are only supposed to be under the rule of their husbands, not all males. Women and men would be useless without each other, and thus women should be included in politics.

1842-02-01 00:00:00

Get a Richer Life: Go to Clubhouses

In this article, the author suggests that Man and Woman have been co-degraded. Women must not look to men for freedom, and men must not assume they can deny or control that freedom. However, the author also states that men have a richness to life from education, politics, club houses, and general pursuits of life that women cannot ever hope to understand. A women's job therefore, is to "be the means of rectifying and recalling Man from erroneous seekings." This, he believes, will elevate women's social status and solve the inequality between the genders. (library workshop)

1843-06-01 00:00:00

Fight for yourself! But do it MY way.

This review of "The Wives of England, their Relative Duties, Domestic Influence, and Social Obligations," was published in 1843 as a commentary on the assertions and guidelines expressed by Mrs. Ellis in relation to how women should act.

1845-03-14 00:00:00

The New Law of Marriage and Divorce

This article appeared in 1845 in The London Journal and outlined the changed made to law surrounding divorce.

1861-07-13 00:00:00

Home is where the [money] is.

This London Review article articulates the issues of marriage outside of the homeland, as well as the role of gender in marriage (among other topics).

1863-02-01 00:00:00

Marriage Means Business

In a magazine article about marriage settlements from 1863, English marriages are very much defined as business settlements, a theme that drives the plot of Pride and Prejudice.

1863-02-01 00:00:00

Inferior wives take the blame

An 1863 article about marriage settlements presents the idea of female inferiority and fault when a man is unsatisfied with a marriage, which Mr. and Mrs. Bennet epitomize in Pride and Prejudice.

1867-02-01 00:00:00

Women Suffrage: The Rise of Feminism

In this short article from The London Times, the author advocates women suffrage as well as women's equality in many conditions such as "property, rating, rental, or any other qualifications...granted to men."

1868-12-01 00:00:00

Criminals, Idiots, Women, and Minors

Irish writer and social reformer Frances Power Cobbe laments the lack of legal rights of women in Victorian England in her essay Criminals, Idiots, Women, and Minors.

1869-01-01 00:00:00

Women-- Not Animals

The Contagious Diseases Acts were originally passed in 1864 to prevent venereal disease in select naval ports and army towns. The laws were expanded in 1869 to include other districts.

1869-01-01 23:54:17

Bodichon and the Legal Status of Women

Barabara Bodichon was an Englishwoman who advocated for women's legal rights and suffrage.

1869-12-06 17:59:22

A Brief Summary…

Barbara Bodichon clearly and plainly summarizes the many laws regarding women in mid-19th century England.

1871-02-01 00:00:00

"The Constitution Violated"

Josephine Butler, a Conservative Christian and vehement feminist, wrote this expository essay bashing England's "Contagious Diseases Act"

1871-02-01 00:00:00

Adultery Coupled with Cruelty

In England at this time, men could divorce women for adultery or desertion. He may also press charges against the man that had an affair with his wife. However, a woman may only divorce her husband if he has committed adultery coupled with cruelty, adultery coupled with a desertion of over two years, or incestuous adultery. Simply betraying her loyalty is not enough. This inequality speaks to the many changes that women are still fighting for. Although they have the right to divorce, it is far from equal to a man's opportunities. In A Doll House, Torvald still has legal and matrimonial control over Nora, despite her decision to leave.

1872-02-01 00:00:00

Human Rights, According to Darwin

In this essay, Frances Power Cobbe takes Darwin's views on animalistic evolution, and states that if animals can evolve, people can too

1878-04-04 20:59:44

These long-neglected wrongs

Frances Power Cobbe's "Wife-Torture in England" was published in The Contemporary Review

1878-12-13 05:55:56

Meeting Expectations

In A Doll's House, Nora realizes the issues and problems in her flawed marriage after her husband fails to meet her expectations.

1879-01-01 00:00:00

"It puts the lotion on its skin..."

In Henrik Ibsen's "A Doll's House," Torvald Helmer repeatedly refers to his wife, Nora, using pet names, referring to her smaller womenly status.

Love and Marriage

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