I have done so much research into mid 19th century behavior. Both here in the USA and abroad. And, when I write my own characters have taken every step with each of them, said every word, felt what they feel. I know them inside and out. They live with me in my mind and I live with them in the same way. I am, in many ways, a 19th century woman trapped in the 21st century. As you might expect, in some ways, that can be horrifying.
Say It Like It Is
This is one of the most widely used phrases I have heard in my lifetime, and it would probably be the least likely to make any sense to a 19th century man or woman. There were rules. Rules you did not break because you believed they made the world a better place, and you did not want to be the one to change that. Life was slower, less stressful and much happier. Yes, there were troubles in the world. Many of the same issues we now face existed back then. But, people held the belief that without manners and propriety, life would be lived at much lower, miserable, level.
Examples of how men and women behaved in 1840 are below:
When a man courted a woman he first asked for permission from her father, or if the man was not living, the mother, or grandparent, uncle, etc. Whoever was the eldest serving relative. Before being granted permission, he would have to clearly state his intentions, so there would be no confusion.
With that said, the man must have stated honorable intentions, as in he wanted to marry the daughter/granddaughter/niece etc. before any consideration would be made. This was not a contract of marriage, or to be confused with an arranged marriage. This was a modern approach back in the day, and it allowed any eligible bachelor to pursue the woman of his dreams. Sounds nice? It was. On the whole.
Not all of those dreams were romantic. In fact love was something that was expected to grow over the years. Money, social position, and family connections still carried the day when it came the marriage. However, instead of engagements being exclusively arranged by the father, we now had men stepping up and pleading their case for the woman, and coming armed with a list of all their qualities.
Keeping with this same idea of asking the head of the family for the right to court their daughter, the man who ventured forward did so with the rules of society more in his favor than not. A man’s word was sacred. The idea of investigations being made to ascertain the prospective son-in-law was honest, were considered in poor taste and a sign that the person doing the investigating was in fact untrustworthy to begin with. So, when John Jones came to call on Alice Smith’s father, John Jones was given more than his fair share of the benefit of the doubt. He was believed, unless someone came forward with unsolicited and irrefutable evidence to the contrary.
Naturally, this also gave men the advantage when it came to business dealings, making “the hand shake contract” the order of the day. Avoiding formal contacts, lawyers and courts was considered to be the sign of a true gentleman. Yes, times really have changed all right.
Socially, people were not supposed to simply state their opinions, either. Once past the curtsying and bowing (still in practice among refined folk of the day), conversations were mainly meant to be amusing, lightly informative, and in a word – jolly. Politics and religion were off the table. As was complaining about one’s health, spouse, parents, children, and generally any kind of complaints whatsoever. Both the hosts and guests were expected to maintain a steady stream of lively yet pleasing conversation that enabled all to make merry without fear.
When it came to patriotism, everyone was expected to show at least a polite amount of it, whether or not one agreed with the ruling party. Politicians were expected to leave the work at the office when it came to social gatherings, even if they came face to face with a political opponent at a wedding or other social occasion. Once again, times have really changed.
You’ll see many instances within CounterClockwise that show how unscrupulous individuals took advantage of the unwritten laws of the day, and, on the other side of the coin, how others used it to the advantage of good causes.