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Wives in the Late Victorian Era

Published onDec 01, 2022
Wives in the Late Victorian Era

Friedrich Engels, in The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State, noted that there are trade-offs in marriage that do not guarantee women's rights. These trade-off marriages are more like women selling themselves to their husbands for a permanent lump sum, thereby using their bodies as prostitutes or slaves for their husbands. Admittedly, there are some prerequisites for Gus to express a critique of marriage. First, Engels' critique is directed at "the two ways of contracting marriage in the recent bourgeoisie. One is the marriage "in Catholic countries, where bourgeois parents choose their sons' wives". In such marriages "the contradiction of exclusive matrimony is maximized," i.e., extramarital sexual relations; the other is a marriage in which "the sons of the bourgeoisie in Protestant countries have more or less freedom to choose their spouses. In such marriages, the parties can "base their marriage on a certain degree of love," but this choice of marriage "is always predicated on decency," so that the son of the bourgeoisie still has to choose a wife from his own class. The contradictions of the monogamy" are not so strong, but the essence remains unshaken.

In this chapter, we will analyze the second and third chapter from a book published in London in 1841 - "The Wife and Mother; or, Hints to Married Daughters, by a Mother ". The book reflects the "gender role" of marriage in England in those days. The author of this book defines herself as a "successful wife" and tries to pass on her "experience" through this book to teach other girls similar to her daughter who are just becoming wives how to be a good wife. In the second chapter of the book, she mentions the duties that a wife should accomplish, and in the third chapter, she focuses on the characteristics of a wife. In describing the characteristics of a "good" wife and their duties, the mother, or wife, gives her own understanding of the position and role of women in the family:

  1. Women are the important guarantors of family stability

  2. Women are the main bearers and implementers of education for children

  3. Women are the emotional caregiver and healer of family members

  4. Women are the managers of family wealth

So, in fact, in the author's mind, she believes that the role of women in marriage is very important and irreplaceable. But it seems that women still take on more hard duties in marriage that are not noticed by the public. The reason why women always volunteer to take on more duties in the family is because marriage has a greater impact on women. In those days, a bad marriage had a much greater impact on women than on men. Men were not under as much pressure from emotional public opinion in 1841, and most men were the wealth creators in the family and had more options. Unlike women, who were under pressure from family, finances, etc. after a divorce. The effects of a bad marriage on women were really more than women of that era could afford. So many women will want to rely on their "good performance" in the marriage to maintain a relationship that, although not equal, meets the expectations of the men in the marriage.

The situation of Late Victorian married women made some women willing to pay for the family. 18th and 19th century more and more women achieved employment, their ability to work could not be ignored, but their wages were far less than men, suffering from labor oppression and at the same time bearing the burden of the family. This means that if women "failed" in marriage, it was difficult for them to afford life after divorce. Worse still, even the English law of the 19th century did not recognize the independent personality and identity of married women, and once married, women lost their legal existence and became dependent on their husbands. From a legal point of view, all the earnings of a married woman's labor belonged to her husband. In this case, women in marriage had to give more to the marriage and lower the status of their gender in the marriage. In the book The Wife and Mother, or, Hints to Married Daughters, we can see that mothers and society care for and educate women by teaching them how to win the hearts of men in marriage. But I think this is also just a way for mothers to get a better life for their daughters. Wives want a decent life from their husbands, so women have to do everything they can to please their husbands. A woman's life is really hard. In this book, all the mother wants is for her daughter to get what she thinks is a better marriage.

When I was in the secondary sources of "What is the role of women in the family", I often saw similar words - "As long as you are a good wife/mother, you are great! " This statement is ironic, but it also reflects the situation of the gender role in the family at this time. In the social context of the time, the role of women in the family was influenced by the role of women in society. The resources that women had access to, such as economic, status, and constraints, were not comparable to those of men in the same social position.

But nonetheless, I don't think we can judge this author based on the words she writes. In past societies, gender inequality in marriage was not the cause of feminist oppression in that era, but the result of it. What the author writes about is just the result of her conforming to the gender role of most marriages in the society of her time. 1841 was a time when society in general was oppressive and patriarchal to women. Even in today's society, I can't confidently claim that all men no longer require women to take on those obligations and characteristics in marriage as described in the book. Most men are still unable to move on from the patriarchal society of the time, nor are they able to accept that women have moved on from the unequal gender role in marriage. But that's why the feminist movement is still going on every day in the 21st century, and women, or rather all people, need to work hard to gain equal rights in marriage and other situations.

Reference List

Mother. The Wife and Mother, or, Hints to Married Daughters. London: Religious Tract Society, 1841.

Engels, Friedrich. The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State. Peking: Foreign Languages Press, 1978.

Perkin, Joan. Women and Marriage in Nineteenth-Century England. London: Routledge, 1989.

Qian, Chengdan, and Jieming Xu. Ying Guo Tong Shi = The History of England. Shanghai: Shanghai she hui ke xue yuan chu ban she, 2002.

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