Watching some of the movies about the 19th century it would almost seem that women didn’t want the man they loved. Many times a woman’s love was portrayed as childish and so pure it was “above” sexual attraction and need.
The physical love we see all the time on TV and in movies nowadays was skirted around and avoided by many filmmakers who produced period films – even though the reality of what life was like in the 1840s was quite different.
Sex was natural.
Of course it was. Women were not told sex was dirty or that they would burn in fire for all eternity if they felt attracted to their man. All of that is pure fiction.
Instead, sexual love was something that was taken as an important part of life, but, not one people had to dwell on or use to advertise products.
Unless it was a dance hall, and, even then the fact that sex was for sale was not openly discussed – at least not in the higher social circles. Signals and hints were made to the establishment manager and he would then discreetly arrange for the man to meet a woman in a private room. That’s how the transaction was handled.
In personal relationships, the phrase used back in those days, “the contract is as good as the ceremony”, meant that engaged couples often made love and there were many brides who were already pregnant when they walked down the aisle. In polite circles, it was considered to be an “early” baby and that was usually the end of the discussion.
Falling in love was truly an emotional and spiritual experience for a man and a woman in the 19th century – and making it real by a physical exchange was something that was up to them, and, also kept between them alone.
It wasn’t that anyone considered the matter to be vulgar. Hardly. It was instead considered to be very private and therefore it was to be left between the lovers to consummate their relationship.
Remember, Queen Victoria had not yet reached the point of influencing the world about sexual behaviour. That came in the 1890s and remained to some extent later on in the 20th century.
Married with a lover.
This happened many times in the 19th century – as well as every century before, and since then. I doubt it will ever stop. As long as we are all human beings it can’t stop.
Beyond the idea of “cheating” was something we have all forgotten about in our society. While we are so open about sex itself it leaves nothing to the imagination, the emotional side of the relationship has become much more mysterious than it used to be.
Being married with a lover in 1840 was far from unheard of in most any social circle – and in most countries around the world. In Europe it was almost expected that a man, or a woman as well, would take a mistress or a lover during their marriage in order to keep that relationship intact.
Why stay in a marriage and keep a lover.
Because it brings happiness to what may otherwise be a very unhappy and complicated situation. Divorce, in centuries gone by, was actually the only thing “ugly” that could happen between a man and a woman. Breaking sacred vows was an act that needed to be justified by more than simply changing ones’ mind. There had to be a very big reason – usually abandonment – for anyone in society to accept it.
For marriage brought children, property, and wider family obligations such as care for aging parents, to the picture. So staying the course, and living up to our obligations – was something honorable, even if it meant that a mistress or lover was kept privately away somewhere.
Make love today.
“And hope for tomorrow.” That’s what most of my characters feel when they are in this situation, and that’s what I believe the 19th century woman would think as well.
Men were always given more leeway in the matter of extramarital relationships and the world usually looked the other way so long as the wife and children were provided for and kept comfortable.
Women, in many cases, were also given this privilige by way of those who knew or suspected a lover never bringing up the subject. The woman had to be married to take a lover though, in case of a pregnancy, which, as mistresses go, the older and well-preserved woman who was past childbearing years became quite desirable.
Yet, female nature being what it is, the emotions take hold and they do need something tangible to hold on to when they enter an intimate relationship. They want hope. That tomorrow has a chance.
Think about Scarlett in GWTW “Tomorrow is another day!” and you’ll get a good idea of what women of her time wanted. It’s not all that different from what women in our day and age want to tell the truth!