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Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Romance and Marriage in Georgian England

The institution of marriage made a drastic change during the 18th century and it seems that the early romance novel may have had a hand in switching the focus from power and money to love.

Early in the 18th century, marriages were arranged affairs as they had been from ancient times. Couples were brought together usually as a business deal to secure wealth, title, and status between families. What’s love got to do with it? Absolutely nothing in most cases. Love was thought to be a bad thing for a marriage, because passion and love led to erratic behavior and could keep the couple from focusing on important things, like social, military, and financial duty.

By the 1760s, however, there were as many marriages for love as there were by arrangement. And the trend continued until the end of the century, when most marriages were made based on love rather than worldly considerations. Why this shift?

One cause seems to be the up-and-coming middle class. As more and more middle class families gained substantial wealth, usually through trade, they attracted the attention of impoverished nobility. However, middle class families usually placed greater significance on a love match in marriage rather than monetary gains. So if daughters of this class married “up,” they often did it for love.

Another influence that comes to bear and that has been cited as a possible cause for love matches are romance novels such as Samuel Richardson’s
Pamela; or Virtue Rewarded, in which the maid, Pamela, fends off the unwanted advances of her employer, Mr. B, until he realizes he loves her and asks her to marry him. When Pamela realizes she is in love with him, she agrees, and they are married. Written in 1740, the novel was wildly popular, a best-seller of its time, and may have begun people thinking about the advantages of a love match.

Later in the century, in Richard Brinsley Sheridan’s play The Rivals, first performed in 1775, the heroine, Lydia Lavish, has based her requirements for marriage on the heroes she has encountered in a myriad of romance novels. She wants a purely romantic, love-based match with a poor soldier, as so often figures in the romances she reads. The man she loves, however, ends up being a wealthy, titled man and she has to reconcile herself to that, but love is stronger than principle, so she marries him.

In my just released Georgian romance, Only Seduction Will Do, set in the middle of the 18th century, Miss Alethea Forsythe has been seduced by a married peer and must submit to an arranged marriage to escape a ruined reputation. She, however, manages to arrange the marriage between herself and the man she loves. Unfortunately, the gentleman in question doesn’t return her sentiments and marries her only out of a sense of honor. So Alethea sets out to seduce her husband, to create a love match so they can have a happy ever after, just like a romance novel should.

Only Seduction Will Do is available at Amazon, B & N, Kobo, iTunes, and Google.

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