Some years ago I wrote a novella, “The Mad Earl’s Bride,” for an anthology titled THREE WEDDINGS AND A KISS. The Big Name on the cover was Katheleen E. Woodiwiss, and the book rocketed to the top of all the bestseller lists. I’m not sure it ever went out of print, but whether it did or didn’t it’s decidedly in print now. Wench Susan/Miranda called me from a Borders bookstore to tell me it was being pushed to the front of the store. This month it’s part of their Buy 4 get 1 Free deal.
All of which fits in nicely with today’s bridal theme.
Sharon Baumgartner is going to win an autographed Loretta Chase book for asking the following question:
It seems like most of the heroines in historical romances are 18, 19, 20. There are some older, but usually those are referred to as being VERY old to be still looking for a husband and pretty much firmly "on the shelf". When my daughter was 18 or 19, I would have been very concerned about her getting married, thinking that she was not at all mature enough for taking that step. I know that a lot of marriages back in the Regency era (or whatever era the historical might be set in) were arranged by the families for reasons having nothing to do with personal selection (except in our favorite books, of course). But my question is were the young women back then that much more mature than girls today? Even if they had been trained to do all of the things to run a household, etc., that they were expected to do, would they have been emotionally ready for marriage? Or do authors give them the correct age for marrying at the time but write them with more maturity?
Let me start by saying that my paternal grandmother was married by parental arrangement when she was fourteen years old. My maternal grandmother married for love (it was a shocking thing to do in Albania at that time) when she was sixteen. In those days, the bride went to live in the groom’s household where his mother ruled and her daughters-in-law did what they were told. This happened in the 20th century. Were my grandmothers more mature than today’s 16-year-old girl? Possibly. Or maybe not. Maybe they simply had less freedom and fewer choices. And maybe maturity depends on the girl.
In my grandmothers’ time and place, girls didn’t have a lot of choices. They got married and had children. They would have been trained for marriage: how to run a household, cook & clean& sew & so forth--or (depending on socioeconomic class) supervise those who did. So they were better prepared for marriage than today’s average American sixteen-year-old.
When creating women for my stories, I assume that, while manner and mores change, young women of two hundred years ago must have something in common with those of today. Some girls are mature and responsible at a young age. Then there are the ones like Lydia Bennett of PRIDE & PREJUDICE. It’s hard to imagine Lydia ever maturing, isn’t it? Look at her sisters Jane and Elizabeth. They’re in their early twenties, and far more mature than their mother.
Mature or not, most women needed to marry, and the simple fact was and is, young women--generally speaking--are more attractive to men--generally speaking. Look at all those Gidget & Geezer movies. Look at all those Gidget & Geezer marriages in the land of millionaires and movie stars. Do the Geezers care if their Gidgets are mature?
Women had then, as many do today, a real fear that past a certain magical age (past their “first bloom”), they would become unappealing or invisible to men. This is a truly worrisome prospect for some families, absolutely, in the Regency era. Think about Mrs. Bennett, frantic to get her daughters married ASAP. She had a genuine economic concern: When her husband died, she & her girls could be thrown out of their house, as was the case with the Dashwood women in SENSE AND SENSIBILITY. Think of the sorry plight of genteel but impoverished single women of this time. How do they support themselves? Mostly, they can’t. Mostly, they depend on others. Being “on the shelf” wasn’t simply rejection; it could be a financial catastrophe.
In Judith Schneid Lewis’s IN THE FAMILY WAY: Childbearing in the British Aristocracy 1750-1860, I find ladies marrying from the age of 15 (Elizabeth, Lady Holland, b 1771) to 37 (Susan, Marchioness of Stafford, b 1731). Princess Charlotte, King George IV’s heir, married at age 20. Queen Victoria was 21. The majority were married between the ages of 18 and 20, but there are quite a few marrying in their early to mid-twenties. Anne Isabella Milbanke was 23 when she married Lord Byron.
Mainly, though, as in the books Sharon refers to, upper class women were marrying at 18, 19, 20. And from what I’ve read, they were at about the same maturity level as young women of 18, 19, and 20 today. The difference is that they were expected to get married at that age and were trained to be wives and mothers as well as in the duties of the lady of the house.
I’ve made my heroines various ages but tend toward older heroines--mid to late twenties, and one heroine (Mirabel of MISS WONDERFUL), thirty-one. This is mainly because I simply find them more interesting when they have some life experience. And that’s why, too, a number of my heroines are widows. Whatever their age, I’ve made them mature, though I try to show why they might be more so or more responsible than other girls of their social class and age. Being left motherless at a young age, being educated in an unusual way, having to fend for oneself, having to cope with a distant or psychologically troubled parent, etc.--these are all ways of giving a character maturity beyond her years. Gwendolyn Adams, the heroine of “The Mad Earl’s Bride,” is one such character. She needs to be levelheaded and mature, because the arranged marriage she agrees to is a very challenging one.
Do you think young women were/are emotionally ready for marriage at 18, 19, 20? How do you feel about young heroines? Do you think young women 100-200 years ago were or weren’t like young women of today?
Originally posted at Word Wenches.