This was a sensitive subject back in mid 19th century, as it still is in many ways, except that back in the time I am writing about, people were less apt to understand about either a breakup of a courtship, engagement or, the very worst of all, a marriage.
Since some of my characters go through one or both of these situations, I wanted to talk about it with all of you.
For the vast majority of couples, those who courted each other ended up married. If that did not happen, and in order to avoid a lifetime shunning, there had to be a very serious and unavoidable reason, such as severe illness or death, that prevented the couple from marrying.
This naturally gave anyone pause when it came to courting at all, given that it was almost an agreement to walk down the aisle with that person, barring either of the two reasons I stated above. And, such serious considerations were the primary reason for a woman or man who did not want/need to marry to remain something of a loner.
In CounterClockwise, some of my pairings do not go well at all. There are breakups, both temporary and permanent, and this leads to emotional drama, gossip, alienation and even major financial losses.
As another note, especially under this heading, a breakup of a courtship or engagement meant something altogether worse for the woman involved in that breakup: the loss of her good name. Yes, many a tongue would wag about the lady who ended a courtship or, even worse, was on the receiving end of being dumped. The very idea of a breakup cast doubt on the woman’s character, and led to the assumption, nay belief, that the sole reason for the end of that courtship was that the woman was revealed to be something of a trollop. Yes everyone, that’s how it was.
Pretty much all of the above issues regarding divorce were those also associated with a breakup, except that the narrow-minded judgements were also passed on to the next generation. So, if children were involved, the venom was directed at them too, and they would become social outcasts – regarding of their age.
None of this may seem to be a big deal to anyone in the 21st century – we simply ignore ignorant people. However 170 or years ago, it was an enormous deal. Social circles were smaller and it was a life-changing event to suddenly be an outcast. Added to the problem was that there was no other communication save for letter writing and in-person visits. The telephone was not yet invented, and even though the telegraph was well under way, it was initially used primarily by the military and/or the government. And that brought us back to letters and face to face conversations – both of which could be easily refused, should a woman (or man as well though he might recover faster) go through the process of divorce.
Even though society at large was extremely narrow in its views about how a woman should behave, and directed most of its lack of compassion at a woman, it could also be rather harsh on a man as well, even though he may arrive at an end to his time of social shunning. The lady he was formerly in a relationship with, sadly, would never recover, unless she had absolute proof of the man’s unworthiness, which was very hard to accomplish.
As time went on in the man’s life, his circle would usually become more understanding of him, particularly if the man went on to do some kind of good works, or even better, gained the approval of a high-ranking family. But, as I mentioned, that was unlikely to be the case for the woman, who would be forever viewed as nothing more than a scheming harlot.