Courtship and Marriage in Victorian England

by Jennifer Phegley


Many of our modern-day marriage traditions come from the Victorian era—taking honeymoon trips and wearing a white wedding dress, for example. Some would also argue that the Victorian "invention of love" is to blame for our culture's current obsession with finding our "soulmates"—or even that outdated Victorian ideals are responsible for the disintegration of the institution of marriage itself.

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Cover image for Courtship and Marriage in Victorian England

November 2011


Pages 196
Volumes 1
Size 6 1/8x9 1/4
Topics World History/Politics and Government

This book examines the popular publications of the Victorian period, illuminating the intricacies of courtship and marriage from the differing perspectives of the working, middle, and upper classes.

In contemporary culture, the near obsessive pursuit of love and monogamous bliss is considered "normal," as evidenced by a wide range of online dating sites, television shows such as Sex in the City and The Bachelorette, and an endless stream of Hollywood romantic comedies. Ironically, when it comes to love and marriage, we still wrestle with many of the same emotional and social challenges as our 19th-century predecessors did over 100 years ago.

Courtship and Marriage in Victorian England draws on little-known conduct books, letter-writing manuals, domestic guidebooks, periodical articles, letters, and novels to reveal what the period equivalents of "dating" and "tying the knot" were like in the Victorian era. By addressing topics such as the etiquette of introductions and home visits, the roles of parents and chaperones, the events of the London season, model love letters, and the specific challenges facing domestic servants seeking spouses, author Jennifer Phegley provides a fascinating examination of British courtship and marriage rituals among the working, middle, and upper classes from the 1830s to the 1910s.


  • A chronological examination of Victorian marriage law
  • Various courtship and marriage cartoons; pictures of activities during the London Season; photographs of Victorian wedding attire; representations of Queen Victoria's engagement and wedding; illustrations of wedding gifts, dresses, and cakes; and an engraving of the London Divorce Court


  • Provides an easy-to-follow guide to the complex and shifting laws related to marriage in the 19th century
  • Examines the lives of those who lived outside the norms of Victorian married life, including "old maids," bachelors, same-sex couples, and unmarried heterosexual partners
  • Describes the details of Victorian weddings, including invitations, gifts, cards, clothing, rings, and cakes, as well as the wedding ceremony, the wedding celebration, and the honeymoon
  • Discusses illegal and legal unions, including Fleet and Scottish marriages, various types of marriage licenses, and the rules of publication of banns
  • Explores little-known alternative courtship practices including consulting courtship advice columns, advertising in newspapers and magazines, subscribing to courtship correspondence groups, and joining matrimonial agencies
Author Info

Jennifer Phegley is professor of English at the University of Missouri, Kansas City, MO. Her published works include Educating the Proper Woman Reader: Victorian Family Literary Magazines and the Cultural Health of the Nation; Reading Women: Literary Figures and Cultural Icons from the Victorian Age to the Present; and Teaching Nineteenth-Century Fiction.



"Numerous illustrations and a marriage law chronology enliven the text, and the bibliography is notable for its bounty of nineteenth-century source material. Phegley's lucid discussion of the Victorian marriage market does indeed illustrate the consistent rhetorical focus on the companionate ideal, despite the plethora of ways in which Victorians sought partnership."Victorian Periodicals Review

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