Restricted Love And Marriage In Olden Days English Literature Essay
“Lamour fait les plus grandes douceurs et les plus sensibles infortunes de la vie” is a French love quote from Choix de pensées de l amour by Madeleine de Scudery which means “Love makes lifes sweetest pleasures and worst misfortunes” (Madeleine). This quote is the best description of the love in 17th to 18th centuries as loves between couples were strongly restricted due to several reasons. Thus, this kind of love brought the greatest pressure as well as the greatest pain for both parties. True love did not exist at that time. Parents’ decision was final. Marriage was a tool used to climb the ladder of social standard. It was a time where money meant everything and men were in control of the society. As a result, marriage and love became victims. In short, love and marriages in the society in 18th to 19th centuries were bounded by social standards, money and gender discrimination.
Firstly, social standard played an important role in 17th and 18th century. Unlike now, the marriages in olden days were based on social standards. There was no freedom in love and marriage. Even if a young couple was seriously in love with each other, they might not end up getting married unless they met the requirement set out by their family which included social standard. The depressing feeling of the lovers whose love could not be acknowledged by the family was sang out by The Decemberists in the song O Valencia “Our families [could not] agree…But I [would] shout out my love to the stars” ( Meloy). In Wuthering Heights written by Emile Bronte, Catherine who was in love with Heathcliff decided to marry another man after Heathcliff was turned into a servant by her brother because “…it would degrade [her] to marry Heathcliff…” (Bronte 43). She could not accept Heathcliff because of his low status in society although he loved him dearly. In fact, she had a wrong thought that she could help Heathcliff later on with her high standard in society after marrying Edger. The people at that time valued social standard a lot and thus their love and marriage were restricted by all these elements. The same phenomenon can also be seen in Pride and Prejudice where Mr. Darcy as a man who was so full of himself “…with family, fortune, everything in his favour…” (Austen 12). He was someone of high status and thus he had the right to be proud. Due to his pride, he refused to dance with any girls at the ball because he believed that none of the girls could match him. He had a high expectation in finding his future wife who could stand equally besides him too. England’s society was divided into classes in 17th to 19th centuries with the top of the pyramid controlled by nobility, followed by gentlemen who “… were not quite rich but they were certainly well off” (Lambert). In order to “... break out of the pot that holds [them] in” (Steinbeck 38), parents by hook or by crook tried to marry their daughters into rich family of high social standard. Marriage due to love was a bonus, not a necessity. Instead, a marriage which would bring benefits to the family was the expectations and dreams of all the parents. Social status is still something that human look up too nowadays but it is not as important as it used to be anymore. In fact, love and marriage are no longer being bounded by it. People are free to choose their partners without the need to consider the difference between social standard. In short, although social standard still plays an important role in society, its concept has definitely changed with time, leaving people more space and freedom to love.
Besides social standard, money was another major element that was considered in marriage. It is true that marriage will not last long and will only cause more pain than happiness without money as people need money to survive in this world. However, to marry because of money only will not bring happiness as well. Catherine, one of the major woman characters in Wuthering Heights chose to marry a guy she was not in love with because she believed that that was the right thing to do. She thought she would and she should be happy since her future husband “… would be rich, and [she] shall like to be the greatest woman of the neighborhood, and [she] shall be proud of having such a husband.’” (Bronte 42) but she was wrong. She was not happy after her marriage, even worse when she finally met back her ex-lover whom she held dearly in her heart. The society’s view of marriage had affected Catherine’s choosing of future husband. She thought that she should follow the trend and married a rich guy and yet her wrong decision ended up costing her life. Pride and Prejudice too had clearly shown how important money was in spouse choosing. Mrs. Bennet was so excited about marrying her daughters to rich men. She cared less about a guy’s attitudes but instead only looked for “’ a single man of large fortune; four or five thousand a year’” (Austen 2). To her, marriage was like a business. All these novels perfectly show how people view marriage in around 17th - 18th centuries. At that time, “owning land was the main form of wealth … Political power and influence was in the hands of rich landowners …” (Lambert).And since social standard was so important, it was reasonable that people thought that money was very important too. This does not just happen in Europe but also in Asia. In the manga Stepping On Roses (Hadashi De Bara Wo Fume) written by Rinko Ueda, the main character Sumi sold herself to a young bachelor for money. Set in Meiji era, the pour orphan was forced to bring up lots of siblings as well as to settle dept. In desperation, she agrees to marry a young bachelor who she knows nothing about for money (Ueda). Even now; money plays an important role in the society. Money may not be able to buy everything but one thing for certain; one cannot buy anything without money. There are cases where people marry each other for money even in today’s society but more often than not, people tend to marry the one they love nowadays.
Last but not least, gender role at that time was strongly dominated by male. Women were portrayed to be weaklings that need men’s money and power in order to survive in society. A woman was useless and had no value except for reproduction. A girl who could not bear children would had no value to the society as shown in the poem The Munich Mannequins by Sylvia Plath “Perfection [was] terrible, it [could not] have children. Cold as snow breath, it [tamped] the womb” (Plath). Even if girls were born in a rich house, their futures were not secure just like in Pride and Prejudice, “Mr. Bennet’s property …which unfortunately for his daughters, was entailed, in default of heirs male on a distant relation” (Austen 17). Unlike now, women were not allowed to inherit properties last time. In England, long before the born of 1882 Married Property Act, all the properties of a woman would belong solely by the husband. This is to ensure that the “… upper and middle class women had to stay dependent on a man: first as a daughter and later as a wife” (“Marriage”). The same issue can be seen in Wuthering Heights when Heathcliff asked Catherine if Isabella was “’’… her brother’s heir, [was] he not?’… ‘I should be sorry to think so,’ returned his companion”(Bronte 57). Girls would have to find a rich man to marry so that he could support her financially in the future. Without a successful husband, she would have to suffer for the rest of her life and nobody would want that. Therefore, it was expected to have a marriage lack of love and feelings last time due to the different gender role and status in society. Now that woman are given the same opportunity as guys to study, to work and to inherit properties, gender role no longer is an issue to have a forced marriage.
In conclusion, love and marriage in 17th to 18th centuries England were unlike now. They were weak and bounded. Social standard, money and gender role in society were all factors that would affect marriages at that time. Due to all those reasons, love and marriage lost their true value but instead were weighted depending on other elements. However, as time goes by, things seem to change. Social standard still exists but no longer carries such a huge impact in marriage and love. Money remains as something valuable throughout centuries while female have now being given the same opportunity to chase after what they want including education and work. Men no longer are the one in control of everything. Thus, people are given the freedom to love and marriage nowadays no longer will be bounded. Thus, several changes have obviously taken place in society’s perspective on marriage and love from 17th to 21th centuries.
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