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Courtship and Matrimony

Page history last edited by Heather 13 years, 11 months ago


"Courtship and Matrimony," Punch's Almanack, vol 9. (1845): 32.


Color coding: 


 green for proper names

 pink for words/ideas common in the 19th century that may be unfamiliar to readers today


The first canto of this poem represents the ways in which women were adored and showered with flowery language, sometimes excessively, during courtship. 


Fairest of earth!  If thou will hear my vow,                1

  Lo! At thy feet, I swear to love thee ever;

And, by this kiss upon thy radiant brow,

  Promise affection which no time shall sever;

And love which e’er shall burn as bright as now,

  To be extinguished- never, dearest- never!

Wilt thou that naughty, fluttering heart resign?

Catherine! My own sweet Kate!  Wilt thou be mine? 2 & 3


Thou shalt have pearls to deck thy raven hair-

  Thou shalt have all this world of ours can bring;

And we will live in solitude, nor care

  For aught save for each other.  We will fling

Away all sorrow- Eden shall be there!                        4

  And thou shalt be my queen, and I thy king!

Still coy, and still reluctant?  Sweetheart, say,

When shall we monarchs be?  And which the day?     5



The second canto of this poem epitomizes the differing feelings and estrangement of men, towards their beloved wives, once they have wed and nuptial bliss has long passed.



Now, Mrs. Pringle, once for all, I say                       6

  I will not such extravagance allow!

Bills upon bills, and larger every day,

  Enough to drive a man to drink, I vow!

Bonnets, gloves, frippery and trash- nay, nay,           7

  Tears, Mrs. Pringle, will not gull me now.                8

I say I won’t allow ten pounds a week:                     9

I can’t afford it; Madam, do not speak!



In wedding you, I thought I had a treasure;

  I find myself most miserably mistaken!

You rise at ten, then spend the day in pleasure;-

  In fact, my confidence is slightly shaken.

Ha! What’s that uproar?  This, ma’am, is my leisure

  Sufficient noise the slumbering dead to waken!

I seek retirement, and I find- a riot;

Confound those children, but I’ll make them quiet! 



               Notes on the Text


1.       Vow: As the OED defines this term, “A solemn promise made to God, or to any deity or saint, to perform some act, or make some gift or sacrifice, in return for some special favour; more generally, a solemn engagement, undertaking, or resolve, to achieve something or to act in a certain way.”  The narrator’s “vow” can be interpreted as his wish to wed the young woman as well as his verbal promise.



2.       Catherine & Kate:  One can assume that Catherine is the proper name of the narrator’s beloved.  To show his love and the impending union with her he calls her Kate.



3.       Wilt thou be mine:  Although on the surface this seems to be a heartfelt proposal, it is significant to note the extent to which women were impacted, in many ways negatively, by marriage.  Mary Lyndon Shanley explores the impact of marriage in her book, Feminism, Marriage, and the Law in Victorian England.  Shanley states: 


“Further, a man assumed legal rights over his wife’s property at marriage, and any property that came to her during marriage was legally his.  While a husband could not alienate his wife’s real property entirely, any rents or other income from it belonged to him.  On the other hand, a woman’s personal property, including the money she might have saved before her marriage or earned while married, passed entirely to her husband for him to use and dispose of as he saw fit.  Other laws consonant with coverture reinforced a husband’s authority: he decided the family domicile, he had the right to correct his wife physically, and he determined how and where their children would be raised.  Social and economic pressures as well as the law made it very difficult for Victorian women to leave their husbands or to choose a single life in the first place.  The plight of women who did not marry, who in the parlance of the age “was left on the shelf,” could be economically as well as socially disastrous.  The average wage of that working-class women could command was below subsistence level.”  (Shanley, 8-10)


Once the context of the marriage proposal is understood, it is clear that Catherine has little choice in the proposal and even less authority within society.  The heartfelt proposal of the narrator now seems riddled with problems.



4.       Eden:  The reference here is to the Garden of Eden.  As stated on Wikipedia, the Garden of Eden is the, “place where the first man, Adam, and his wife, Eve, lived after they were created by God. This garden forms part of the creation myth and theodicy of the Abrahamic religions, and is often used to explain the origin of sin and mankind's wrongdoings.”  The narrator seems to be comparing himself and his beloved to Adam and Eve.  Once the second canto is read this comparison becomes ironic in that, the narrator seems to have a figurative fall of character.  He does not fulfill the promises that he has originally professed. 



5.       When shall we monarchs be:  The narrator is attempting to justify the union between himself and his lover.  Part of his argument is that neither of them will ever be royalty, or be titled, yet they will be rich with their love for each other.  From 1837 until 1901 Queen Victoria was in power.



6.       Mrs. Pringle:  The narrator’s change of address to his spouse, from the informal Catherine and Kate to the formal Mrs. Pringle, represents his  altered feels for her as well as the transformed way in which he views her (as a possession and no longer an individual).  Shanley expands upon the idea of women as possessions in her book, Feminism, Marriage, and the Law in Victorian England.  Shanley states: 


“For feminists, one of the most striking manifestations of this marital “slavery” was the fact that under the common law a wife was in many ways was regarded as the property of her husband.  The common law doctrine of coverture dictated that when a woman married, her legal personality was subsumed in that of her husband.”  (Shanley, 8)


As apparent from his response in the second canto, the narrator feels that there is justification for his directing and commanding the changes that his wife is to uphold in regard to her daily life.  In addition, he has the law on his side concerning these demands.



7.       Frippery:  As defined in the OED, frippery is, “Finery in dress, esp. tawdry finery; an example of this, an article of fashionable attire. Also, transf. tawdry ornamentation in general.”  The narrator contends that the money which Mrs. Pringle is spending weekly is not for household necessities and goods but for luxuries and personal indulgence.  What is interesting to point out is that the narrator is now begrudging Catherine for the things that he promised her in the first canto. 


“Thou shalt have pearls to deck thy raven hair-                                                 

Thou shalt have all this world of ours can bring;”


The promise of jewels and finery seems to have shifted to yet more false assurances by a less than trustworthy suitor.



8.       Gull:  The OED’s definition of this term is, “To make a gull of; to dupe, cheat, befool, ‘take in’, deceive.  Also absol., to practise cheating.”  The narrator seems to be implying that before they were married the tears of Catherine, his wife, easily moved him.  His statement, however, shows how desensitized he has become to her feelings and needs.



9.    Ten pounds:  Based upon Allan Robinson’s chart, ten pounds in 1847 would have the comparative value of 356.6 pounds in 1997.  To discuss this denomination in terms that we understand, it would be equivalent to approximately $507.55 dollars.  To say that this amount of money is spent on fine clothes and ornaments on a weekly basis shows the extent to which the narrator views Mrs. Pringle’s spending as frivolous.



                Commentary on the Text


Heather McLaren, Friday, February 20, 2009 


     Although the poem has historical and social value of its own fruition, it is important to connect it to other works of the period to determine whether it is merely a satirical piece or if it has some grounding in reality.  One such comparison could be made between the poem and Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre.  It should be noted that both pieces of literature were produced within two years of each other, Jane Eyre being published in 1847.  From this, a fair assumption can be made that both authors were drawing upon events and experiences of the same era.


     Like Catherine from the poem, the protagonist of Jane Eyre, Jane, has a strong sense of morality, will not rush into marriage without first considering the ramifications, and desires to be loved for her individual worth.  In the novel, Jane says:


“No; I know I should think well of myself; but that is not enough: if others don’t love me, I would rather die than live- I cannot bear to be solitary and hated, Helen.  Look here; to gain some real affection from you, or Miss Temple, or anyone whom I truly love, I would willingly submit to have the bone of my arm broken, or to let a bull toss me, or to stand behind a kicking horse, and let it dash its hoof at my chest,-”  (Brontë, 133)


The feelings, which Jane expresses above, are portrayed through a similar experience for Catherine.  In the first canto it is apparent, through the narrator’s elaborate declarations of love, that Catherine desires to be respected and loved, yet from the second canto we see that like Jane who is loathed by some, Catherine is detested by her husband who promised to cherish her throughout their lives.


     Similarly, in both the poem and the novel, the issues of equity and equality exist.  The fist canto of the poem shows the undying devotion that the narrator has for Catherine.  His words portray an unstated equality and marital bliss for which he promises.


“And we will live in solitude, nor care

  For aught save for each other.  We will fling

Away all sorrow- Eden shall be there!

  And thou shalt be my queen, and I thy king!”


Yet less the reader be deceived, the second canto portrays an inequality and prejudice that overpowers the marriage.


“In wedding you, I thought I had a treasure;

  I find myself most miserably mistaken!” 


 To this end, Brontë explores the same misgivings through her protagonist, Jane. 


“Women are supposed to be very calm generally: but women feel just as men feel; they need exercise for their facilities, and a field for their efforts as much as their brothers do; they suffer from too rigid a restraint, to absolute a stagnation, precisely as men would suffer; and it is narrow-minded in their more privileged fellow-creatures to say that they ought to confine themselves to making puddings and knitting stockings, to playing on the piano and embroidering bags.  It is thoughtless to condemn them, or laugh at them, if they seek to do more or learn more than custom has pronounced necessary for their sex.”  (Brontë, 178) 


From this perspective, both texts denote the precarious position in which women were placed in both society and after marriage.  Women were not treated with respect as equals but as possessions to be ordered around and done with as the husband saw fit.  The expectation was that women were to fall into domestic bliss, please their husbands, and focus on frivolous and superficial items.  There was not a space in which women could freely express their ideas and beliefs concerning any matters of significance.  By comparison, it is interesting to note that Catherine, from the poem, does focus on these frivolous items and matters of the household; however, she is still chastised by her husband for what he feels is a lack of discretion.  Ultimately, men’s superiority was continually reinforced while suggesting that women were of an inferior class to be controlled like children.



                Works Cited   


   Brontë, Charlotte.  Jane Eyre.  Peterborough, Ontario, Canada: Broadview Press Ltd, 1999. 


"Garden of Eden." Wikipedia.  2009. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc.  18 Feb 2009 <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Garden_of_Eden>.


Gordon, Michael.  "The Ideal Husband as Depicted in the Nineteenth Century Marriage Manual.”  The Family Coordinator Jul 1969: 226-231.  JSTOR.  EMU Bruce T. Halle Library.  07 Feb 2009 <http://www.jstor.org.ezproxy.emich.edu/stable/pdfplus/581982.pdf>.


Gordon, Michael, and M. Charles Bernstein.  "Mate Choice and Domestic Life in the Nineteenth-Century Marriage Manual.”  Journal of Marriage and the Family Nov 1970: 665-674.  JSTOR.  EMU Bruce T. Halle Library.  07 Feb 2009.  <http://www.jstor.org.ezproxy.emich.edu/stable/pdfplus/350260.pdf>.


NodeThirtyThree, Dollars 2 Pounds.  2000-2009. Analysis UK Limited.  19 Feb 2009 <http://www.dollars2pounds.com/>.


Oxford English Dictionary. 2008. Oxford University Press . 07 Feb 2009 <http://dictionary.oed.com.ezproxy.emich.edu/entrance.dtl>.


Shanley, Mary Lyndon.  Feminism, Marriage, and the Law in Victorian England, 1850-1895.  Reprint.  Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1993.



Please be sure to cite reference works, including dictionaries, encyclopedias, scholarly articles, other 19th century sources, and other websites that you used in preparing this page.  In particular, it is extremely important to use quotation marks when copying material directly from another source, to provide a parenthetical citation to the source and relevant page number, and to include that source here.  If you do not know how/when to decide what to cite or how to format citations in MLA Style, please consult your instructor. [Please retain these directions.]




                For Additional Reading 


"British Social and Economic History.”  Spartacus Educational.  Jan 2009.  Schoolnet.  18 Feb 2009.  <http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/history.key4.htm>.


  •                 This site provides the social and economic history of the British Empire and historical background regarding the Victorian Era.


Kitson, Arthur.  "AN INVARIABLE MONETARY UNIT.”  A Fraudulent Standard.  Oct, 1917.  STAMFORD.  19 Feb 2009 <http://yamaguchy.netfirms.com/7897401/kitson/kitson_index.html>.

  • This article provides information on Arthur Kiston’s proposal to create a standardized monetary unit.  His suggestions are based upon the exchange-values of commodities desired based upon an unvarying supply and demand. 


Robinson, Allan.  "The Value of a Pound.”  Bank of England.  19 Feb 2009 <http://www.maybole.org/history/archives/valueofthepound.htm>.

  • This chart shows the value and conversion for the value of a pound from 1500 to 1997.


"Victorian Era.”  Wikipedia.  2009. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. 18 Feb 2009 <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Victorian_England>.  

  • This site gives information and historical background regarding the Victorian Era.


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Heather McLaren

Eastern Michigan University

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     Project Completed: Winter 2009


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