In the 19th century, A girl's entire education and upbringing was directed towards finding an eligible husband. Middle and upper class girls were educated in literature, French, music, drawing and some math, history and geography. This would ensure they could run a household, entertain a potential partner, and hold a conversation. It is important to note that they were not encouraged to have opinions or appear smarter than their male counterparts. Luckily, it seems, not everyone followed this (eg. Elizabeth Bennet from Pride and Prejudice).
When a girl was 16 or 17 she would have a coming out party or attend a debut ball. This signalled to her social circle that she was available for potential courtship. The Victorian social season was April to July. Young women would travel with their families, or go to visit older female relatives, in larger centres or holiday towns like London and Bath in England, or Boston and New York in the US.
A young ladies day during the social season started at noon with breakfast and getting ready for the day. Afternoons were spent strolling in the park, shopping, or attending a concert. Dinner was around 8pm and then they would attend an opera or play, and on to parties and balls, sometimes until 4 or 5am. All this was with an attentive chaperon, usually their mother or other older female relative.
There were very strict social rules that ladies had to follow. You could not introduce yourself to a man, a mutual friend must do that. Also those of higher class would be introduced to those lower and not the other way around. Those in the higher position did not have to keep up the acquaintance if they didn't want and could "snub" those beneath them. A young lady must always be with her chaperon when out socially and never be alone with a male she was not related to. She could not receive male visitors alone or ride in a covered carriage with one.
At a ball a man who wanted to dance with a young lady would fill out his name on her dance card. He could have up to three dances with her, and if she was interested one of her dance partners, she could give him her dance card at the end of the night, indicating he may call on her. Visits were always in the company of her family or chaperon. They could go for walks, but they must walk apart without contact and in view of others.
If the partnership developed to a proposal, the male had to get permission from the ladies' father, and she did not have to accept the first time. Families would look at the class level, family reputation and finances as well before approving the match. Once approved, it was usually announced to an inner circle first before being publicly announced.
An engaged couple could hold arms, ride in an open carriage together and kiss on the cheek. However if the engagement was broken after the public announcement, this could damage a girls reputation. After all a man had touched her hand! Who would marry such a trollop now? Some suitors were even sued for damages and loss of money spent on the bride's wardrobe.
Despite all this, many couples did find love, even those ladies who had previously rode around in other men's carriages.
What are your thoughts on Victorian style courting?
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