Sunday, March 2, 2014

The Regency Man and Marriage: Fact and Fiction

Consider these images:

#1 A bare-chested male sex machine with a beautiful woman draped over him.

#2 A soberly dressed man with his wife on his arm and with them, five or six healthy, well-dressed children.

Which image was the ideal of the Georgian and Regency male?

If you picked #2, you are correct.

#1 is an anachronism, today's popular image of the marriage-phobic male who dreads relinquishing his life of hedonistic pleasure for the so-called strangling bonds of matrimony.

#2 is the Georgian and Regency ideal of manhood--a man with proven fertility and who is also a good provider.

In Georgian and Regency England, everyone had a place, and that place was marriage.

Bachelorhood was the undesirable limbo a man must endure before he wed. Life for a bachelor consisted of work and a social life mainly with other bachelors. They worked together, lived together, and filled the coffee houses and chop houses.

At first, the bachelor might enjoy the freedom from parental control. But a single man had a lower status than his married brethren, and in time, the exclusive company of men palled. Men longed for adult feminine company. How did bachelors find marriageable women? With great difficulty. If they were lucky, their families and married friends offered access to single women, since the women stayed at home.

Besides enhanced status, a secure place in society, and most importantly, the ultimate proof of his manhood, marriage conferred practical benefits on a bachelor, and I'm not just talking about available sex.

Marriage has always had an economic component. All men, even wealthy men, worked, leaving them less time for the day-to-day necessities of life. They needed to eat, live somewhere and have their living quarters and clothes cleaned. In the 18th and 19th centuries, food preparation, laundry and cleaning were expensive and time-consuming. Since most men couldn't afford servants, they had to pay for these services. In the division of labor of the time, a wife would perform these tasks while she also warmed her husband's bed and cared for his children.

Yes, there were unhappy marriages as well as happy ones, but the promise of happiness plus the other benefits outweighed the possibility of misery in the minds of most men.

A good book with a whole chapter on this subject is Behind Closed Doors: At Home in Georgian England by Amanda Vickery. This book also includes the Regency.

So, the next time you encounter one of those high-born Regency rakes who disdain marriage, remember his realistic counterpart--the man who yearned to wed.

Thank you all,

Book cover: The Seduction by Nicole Jordan
Painting: The Baillie Family (c. 1784) by Thomas Gainesborough


Ella Quinn - Romance Novelist said...

There were a lot of misbehaving men during both the Regency and Georgian eras. It was also a time where sexual prowess was valued. They believed women were more fertile if they had orgasms. Freud put a kibosh on that during the Victorian era. For some marriage was a necessity, a peer needed heirs, though it was not his fertility he cared about, but his wife's. Some younger sons needed to marry for career advancement, particularly if they held government positions, or were in the church, as single men weren't considered settled. Some men just wanted to wed. However they're were a great many who for whatever reason,never married. Most men lived in multi-generational homes. Especially those in the middling classes, but in the ton as well.

G said...

Yes, picture number 2 is more realistic. But picture number 1 is much more fun to look at! He's so preeetttttyyyy!

Linda Banche said...

Ella, there's the ideal, and then what people actually do. The Georgian and Regency eras were no different. The ideal was the married man with children, especially if marriage helped him in other ways, as the peer needing heirs and only married men need apply for some careers. A lot of children was also one way of a man proving his sexual prowess. Although marriage was the approved state for men as well as women, some men and women never married.

G, I agree. Picture number 1 is nicer to look at!

Jo Beverley said...

I agree with your basic point, Linda, but not with all your extensions,

You shift between the upper class men of Regency romance and the lower class men without servants. I think we can assume most heroes of Regency romances have at least one servant (all households except the poorest had a servant) and probably more, even if they lived in rooms. And rooms could be very plush.

They had their clubs, and also access to "fast food" from chop houses, pie shops and taverns. There were plenty of cleaners and laundresses to deal with such things. They also, of course, had easy access to sex if they didn't mind whores.

An established mistress could, if he wished, be set up exactly like a wife, offering a cosy home.

I agree, most men wanted in time to marry for all the reasons you give, but were they really weary of male company?

Many spent a lot of their London time in Parliament and clubs, which were all-male preserves.Dinners, even for married men, were sometimes all-male as the purpose was political or business. Of course if there were ladies present, they left and the men notoriously lingered for many hours before joining the ladies, if they did so at all.

A good portion of the young men of upper class Britain spent the winter months hunting in the Shires, and many considered it the best of all worlds.

Horses, hard riding, hard drinking, good plain food,and no need to dress this way or that, or mind your language, or listen to women's talk. The Shires in hunting season was pretty well a place without ladies, for they moved out or kept inside, but of course there were whores of all kinds to provide the other necessity.

BTW, I suspect a lot of the women were happiest in the company of other women where they could relax.

Yes, my heroes love their wives' company and mixed company, but that probably doesn't represent the majority. However, that's the point of heroes, isn't it? To be exceptional?



Linda Banche said...

Hi Jo, thanks for the added information.

Of course, there were same-sex groups, and there were men, then as now, who preferred the company of men over that of women, and also men who see women as there only to serve their needs. There is plenty of wiggle room in any ideal. Not all will conform for one reason or anoter, especially those with enough money to do whatever they like, societal norms be damned.

But societal norms and ideals do have some basis in fact. And not all men, even those in Regency romances, see marriage as something to be avoided at all costs. Or if they do, they change their minds. :)

Linda Banche said...

From Francine Howarth:

I couldn't comment on the blog due to restrictions! It's a good post, but I'll plump for all that Jo Beverly added, and will add one more item re sporting country pursuits. Women hunted, too, and it was the one field in which men and women shared in admiration of the more skilled in handling horse flesh: whether that was a woman or man. In fact, women riding aside and putting their horses over jumps were greatly admired by the men, as noted within a gentleman's diary. Bear in mind side saddles were common in the Georgian/Regency periods.

Daphne du Bois - Romance novelist said...

What an interesting discussion!

I think that in many ways the Regency view of marriage was strongly coloured by wealth and societal divides, along with personal preference.

That said, I also think it's about the kind of hero we write. Usually, romance heroes have their own issues to overcome, just as the heroine does, before they can have their happy ending. It makes for a good story. Often, these issues have coloured the hero's view of marriage, women, etc.

But even in the worlds we create, this makes the hero an exception rather than the rule of how men are in society. Romance heroes are outliers, because they have to be interesting and different.

Whereas it's likely that most Regency men didn't have dramatic back-stories or serious issues to sort through, just as most men today don't. :)