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Marriage and Courtship


Courtship. 1810. 59


The Female Tatler expresses tension surrounding the issue of marriage for women. Mrs. Crackenthorpe at once calls marriage a "fatal snare" and resigns herself to the fact that most women need to marry for social and economic reasons and require advice as to who will make a fitting husband.

Mrs. Crackenthorpe’s courtship counsel can be summed up with the charge: be modest and virtuous, show restraint, marry a man with money and quality. She warns women to recognize scurrilous rogues who appear to be good mates, but will inevitably make dreadful partners. For an elaboration on the Female Tatler’s advice on what kind of men ladies should avoid, see Men’s Beauty and Fashionability. Though the Female Tatler maintains that a man’s income is an important aspect of his eligibility, Mrs. Crackenthorpe suggests that his virtue and heritage are more significant, using her own family as an example: "they were always more inquisitive about the antiquity and virtue of the families they married into than about their jointures" (no. 43). Of course, those who possess the "antiquity" Mrs. Crackenthorpe describes generally also have the coin to match.

Mrs. Crackenthorpe also encourages women to wait until they are "older" and more mature to marry:

Though a woman of fifteen may be a pretty plaything, yet a woman must be thirty before she has a true management of her house, by that time she has had little experience, is at the zenith of her understanding and her little vanities and affectations contemptibly thrown aside. She then chooses a husband with judgment, manages him with prudence, and charms him more with her conversation than with her person; a middle-aged, middle-sized brown woman that’s neither awkward nor coquettish, foppish nor fanatical, but dresses herself like a gentlewoman, moderately in the mode, with any easy, affable disposition, can never want admirers from such as every lady would choose, who desires to be entirely happy (no. 43).

Though Mrs. Crackenthorpe is notably silent as to what kind of wife a man should look for in that she never addresses the issue directly, her portrait of the responsible middle-aged woman here provides men with her version of the model wife.

Once a woman has found her ideal mate, Mrs. Crackenthorpe recommends that women remain respectful of and dutiful to their husbands. She exhibits no sympathy for women who neglect their spouses and children, such as Lady Lips-well who frolics about the town with the rogue Jack Medley-brain: "What’s to be done—nothing—when a lady, after ten years marriage and prudent behavior, shall make ridiculous excursions. She is almost irreclaimable . . . charity would still hope she has preserv’d her virtue, and when she has had her swing, that she’ll return to her obedience" (no. 20). No less harsh with women who attempt to rule over their husbands, she writes: "’Tis scandalous for a man to use his wife ill, but for a woman to tyrannise ‘tis monstrous, their virtue is very justly suspected." She even personalizes the charge, exposing the "surgeon’s wife near Aldersgate Street, who beats her little husband" (no. 39). Though Mrs. Crackenthorpe commonly encourages women against such behavior in marriage, she largely refrains from commenting on men’s duties to their wives.

Marriage à la Mode. Plate IV. By William Hogarth. 1745.60


In apparent retort to Mrs. Crackenthorpe’s occasional raillery against but general support of the institution of marriage, Emilia argues against the claim that marriage makes "women only slaves to that tyrant, man." She proffers that it is "in the power of women to rule if they [have] a mind, and that they need not be subject to the slavery of men’s arbitrary wills." Emilia encourages wives to control their husbands through artifice and feminine wiles, commenting: "I much admire at the folly, or rather want of conduct, in the young ladies of this age, who can dissemble their passions for years together to get a husband, and yet cannot baulk themselves a minute afterwards to get the entire masthead over him" (no. 53). Rosella concurs, noting that: "it can never hurt us to know what allurements are the strongest to bind our husbands in the most pleasing ties of affection and civility towards us, and the most effectually to control with them to put their utmost trust and confidence in us." However, Lucinda offers an opposing point, arguing that "If I thought I had not charms enough to command a husband without that artifice you talk of, I would despise the addresses of any man that I was not assured gave me some promising hopes to expect such a rule as I would desire in a marriage life" (no. 55). Clearly, the disagreement among the writers of the Society of Ladies over the role of artifice in marriage reflects a tension a number of eighteenth-century women must have experienced.



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