The perfect Victorian wedding


Marriage is an official commitment of love. A man and a woman tie the knot of conjugal relationship in which both of them promise to remain true blue till death do them apart. Call it anachronistic or incongruent or even antediluvian, but even in this era of the social media and reality entertainment, this traditional sense of marriage is still valid, complacently being moored to societal conventions and traditions. Well, anyway, it really doesn’t matter to Lady Seraphina, who remained maiden, still remains maiden, and will remain maiden, unless Aphrodite concocts the same kind of love-play on her as the one she did on Dido thousands years ago. But readers can rest assured because it is hardly ever so that Lady Seraphina will likely relinquish her maiden license which permits her to regale herself with romantic solitude as her sanctuary. She is above her class, she is above her sex, she is above her race. Seraphina belongs to her own class that resembles none other than itself. That’s probably why she stays unsullied by leering eyes of the undesirable.

Notwithstanding the aforesaid account of Seraphina’s maiden ladyship, she does not eschew the subject of wedding if it involves historical anecdotes and interesting vignettes, such as the following facts about the Victorian wedding she came upon from her reading. Always a student of history, especially about everyday life of ordinary folks and eccentricities of aristocrats (the persons of Sandwich and Portland conjured up suddenly), Seraphina read about it with a kind of cheeky relish conflated with a social superiority that reminded her of her uniqueness on par with Pythia, Artemis, and Vestal Virgins. Anyway, the facts about the Victorian wedding were quite interesting to compare the bygone customs and norms with those of modern day (come to think of it, the “modern day” will be a bygone day in any time soon.) The following were what Seraphina learned from the read:

  • Selection of the perfect partner (so to speak): The right status and temperament were the elemental basis of a desirable husband. Love? Enough of it was believed to follow upon marriage, as St. John Rivers proposed to Jane Eyre whom he regarded as a suitable wife of a missionary in India, a female apostle. In fact, the creator of Jane Eyre Charlotte Bronte urged a friend to consider a proposal of marriage even if she felt disgusted for the man, so long as he had common sense, a good disposition, and a manageable temperament. However, crossing over the boundaries of classes was a rarity. It’s probably why a romance between Mr. Edward Rochester and Jane Eyre, a governess under his employment, was quite sensational to readers of the time. The average ages for marriage were 26 for men and 24 for women. However, girls at 12 and boys at 14 could also marry under the consents of their parents.
  • Where to tie the knot: All marriages were to be performed according to the rites of the Church of England with the exception of Jews and Quakers (Note that Catholics were still disfranchised in the realm of societal privileges due to England’s being staunchly anti-papist.) However, thanks to the Marriage Act 1836, couples were able to marry in a register office and according to their own religious rites, as long as they did so in a registered place of worship with a civil register in attendance. In fact, many an eloped couple and bigamist preferred a civil ceremony that gave them more privacy than a religious ceremony. Think of Jane Eyre and Mr. Rochester who married in front of a magistrate as the narrative hinted at the end of the story.
  • Selection of wedding dates: Spring and summer wedding days were in-vogue among the city bourgeoisie and country aristocrats, whereas among farmers October was the most popular following the harvest season. In the wake of Industrial Revolution, Sunday became the most favorable wedding day for city workers in urban areas. Until 1886, weddings had to take place between 8:00 AM and noon with an extra half-day off given to urban laborers. Thereafter, the hours were changed to 3:00 PM to reflect both the working hours of the lower classes and change of social habits of the upper class.
  • Post-Wedding activities: The bigger and more extravagant wedding banquet was, the wealthier the host thereof – usually at the home of the bride – was regarded as. It was usually breakfast served at the banquet. After the procession of the guests and ceremonial functions, the newly-married were hurriedly off to a love nest where they could be left alone to get to know each other in the most intimate and loving way. Which attests to what George Elliot, who was in fact never officially married, said of the nature of honeymoon as aiming “to isolate two people on the ground that they are all the world to each other.” This honeymoon ritual became an important part of the process of getting married and was called “a wedding holiday,” so to speak. But alas, for some couples it was a time when the flaws and faults of a partner were laid bare, revealing cardinal irreconcilability in naked truth.

IMG_3985So the Victorian wedding was more of a social function that displayed one’s status and wealth. And with respect to the honeymoon occasion, it was something to be reckoned with in this modern time when the idea of marriage has become nothing more than official proclamation of legal co-habitation that is subject to be a void under the convenient pretext of irreconcilable differences between the partners. Besides, marriage now is more of a serial monogamy due to a fashionable trend of divorce. Seraphina thinks that although time changes and people change, marriage should be a sacred rite of starting a new family, the basic unit of society, a cradle of civilization that should not be dealt with a whimsical or capricious spark of passion soon to be extinguished time after time. Hasty marriage seldom proves well. Seraphina may be an old-fashioned lady with traditional values and pristine ideas about love and romance, but she believes that marriage as a time-honored institution throughout our civilization that has been preserved for thousands of years should be respected and kept alive as William Shakespeare concurred: “Marriage is a matter of more worth than to be dealt in by attorneyship.” And mind you that the real act of marriage takes place in the heart, not in a grand hotel or church. It’s a capital choice you make that is reflected in the way you treat your partner. Which also links to what Oscar Wilde advised to would-be lovers: “Never fall in love with one who treats you like you are ordinary.” How rightly so!


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Stephanie Suh

I write stuff of my interest that does not interest anyone in my blog. No grammarians, no copy editors, no marketers, no cynics are welcome.

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