Today is it, the official launch of Courtship and Marriage in Jane Austen’s world! You can find it on Amazon and Barnes and Noble now. It will be available at all the major booksellers and in paperback very soon.
I’ll be giving away another copy of the book with this post, so leave a comment for a chance to win.
Thank you so much for all the wonderful questions. You guys really outdid yourselves–so many questions that this’ll have to be a two part post! Now for some answers!
- We know that husbands could beat their wives with a stick no thicker than the size the husbands’ hands. However, were there any other legal limitations on the abuse they could render? And were they ever punished?
Sadly no, not really. Legally, they could beat their wives ‘severely’ and face little punishment. The original law did not place any limits, but a later judge said they could use a stick no thicker than the husband’s thumb, hence the rule of thumb. A woman could go to court and complain, but it was difficult to see any action taken. Only if he outright killed her was there likely to be punishment.
- What exactly was the etiquette on first names? Was it improper for a man to use the first name of ANY unmarried woman who wasn’t a relative, or were exceptions made for close friends? Would Elizabeth be referred to as Miss Bennet (instead of Miss Elizabeth) whenever Jane wasn’t around to be the default Miss Bennet? And what about married women? Charlotte is referred to as Mrs. Collins after her marriage, but Lady Catherine is always Lady Catherine…
First names were only used among family and very close friends. The only first name a gentleman would use for a female not very close to him was for a servant. In some cases, close friends used first names, as in Mr. Knightley calling Emma by her first name. But he had also known her since birth, so this wasn’t uncommon.
The eldest Miss Bennet present would be called Miss Bennet. If there were several Bennet sisters in attendance, the younger ones would be Miss (First name). Married women would be Mrs. Husband’s Last Name. First names were only for close relationships even with other ladies.
Lady Catherine was called that because her position as an earl’s daughter entitled her to be Lady Her First Name, even though she was married. She would not be addressed as Catherine–woe to the person who ever tried that!
- It seems like proposals of marriage can be given without any signs of courtship (Darcy’s confession of ardently loving Elizabeth and the asking for her consent to be his wife). Was this a common practice? And was there a period of time of acquaintance that had to pass before a man could make an offer? Or could he just “pop the question” at any time?
‘Signs of courtship’ were very subtle and direct discussions effectively impossible. It was possible the woman might not realize a man’s affections, but it probably wasn’t extremely common. Although young people were encouraged to take time to get to know one another, an offer of marriage could be made at a first meeting. But that wasn’t very frequent.
- How bad would be a damage to Miss Darcy’s reputation for just agreeing to an elopement, without it actually taking place?
It would entirely depend on who knew and how much gossip circulated about it. If kept quiet, then there would be little damage done.
- Why did they have dowries? I have read that the men would spend it all, or it would be held (for example, in a Trust) for the female and offspring as their security if the male dies.
The purpose of the dowry was to compensate the husband for the woman’s maintenance for her lifetime. Ideally interest off it provided a woman’s spending money, it provided for daughter’s dowries and younger son’s portions, and established her support in widowhood.
- What are the consequences of eloping? To reputation? To the dowry? Marriage articles?
Eloping would tarnish a young woman’s reputation. There would be no marriage articles which meant there would be no legal provision for her widowhood or for portions for her daughters and younger sons. Her dowry would belong to her husband and she would have no say or control in what he did with it.
- One plot I’ve seen a few times in regency stories is a woman who hopes to marry a rich gentleman will try to compromise herself in hopes that he will have to marry her. I am curious if this actually a common occurrence in reality and whether a woman’s reputation was as easily compromised as the stories suggest. For instance, a letter being given between a man and a woman, being alone in a room together with the door shut or a gentleman asking for a lock of a woman’s hair, etc.
Compromise was largely about acting in a way that convinced onlookers that the couple was engaged. If no one saw the ‘compromise’ or the person who saw it was not inclined to gossip about it, there is was essentially a moot point.
The issue with appearing engaged was that once a couple was betrothed, premarital sex was likely. Thus her reputation was compromised. An honorable man could salvage her reputation by offering her marriage.
There was no legal remedy for a compromise, so it was all about the honor and inclination of the man involved.
Come by tomorrow for to answer to more of your questions!
Congratulations to first round winners: Dene Bassett and Claudia Sandoni
If this whet your appetite for more, you can find Courtship and Marriage in Jane Austen’s World at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Kobo and other major book retailers.