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The Englishwoman At Home 1893

 
 
 
 
The Place which She occupies in her own household. Takes the first decent husband who comes her way, and afterward the "obey" of the marriage service is dutifully regarded. This preferred to the dreaded spinsterhood. Her frank anger at the American girl's audacity, her sons and daughters worship her.

"You American girls are spoiled_utterly spoiled." said an English matron. "You frequently reject a young man for no other reason than that he is the first who has done you the honor to offer you his hand:" "But I don't care for him," said the one addressed.

"There is no reason why you shouldn't care for him, since he is eligible and with nothing about him to which any reasonable creature can make objection. But you Americans pick and choose and are entirely too particular. The trouble is that you are sure if you don't take one you can get another. The men make fools of you. I assure you an English girl would be ashamed of such flippant and capricious behavior."

The conversation is quoted to illustrate the subject of this article, the status of Englishwomen in the home. A study of English novels will reveal that the roughness of the course of true love is almost invariably occasioned by ineligibility, the suit of a younger son, or the passion for the daughter of a gardener or a gamekeeper. That a girl should reject an offer merely because she did not care for the man is incomprehensible to the majority of English maids and matrons.

In spite of the fact that the reign of a Queen might be supposed to restore the spirit of chivalry, an Englishwoman is far from being queen of the household in the sense that we should attach to the title. She is, in fact, much nearer the rank of a favorite slave.

From her earliest infancy she is imbued with the idea of the superiority of her brothers. She is taught that they are masters by right of birth. She must wait upon them, be patient under their tyranny, love them passionately, with a devotion and self-sacrifice that asks for no return unless they be graciously pleased to accord the same.

It is but fair to say, however, that, on the other hand, the boys are taught that they are the natural protectors of women. It is their duty to provide for them, to decide for them in all the important affairs of life, to shield them from dangers that an American woman would thrust aside without thinking of calling for assistance. No English girl is ever considered capable of looking after herself.

The independence of the American girl is one of her characteristics which exercises a fascination over young Englishmen, for not all of them, be it said, marry us for money.

There are many disinterested love matches arising from the fact that an Englishman finds our American girl companionable. In some cases, perhaps, his courtship is actuated by feelings akin to his love for the chase; for, whereas his own countrywomen would receive him promptly and graciously, and accept his attentions and offer as high honors, he is not at all certain that his pursuit of a dowerless American will end in her capture. In the one case it is like hunting pheasants driven to cover; in the other, following wild game in an open prairie.

It is a fact that Englishwomen are very bitter in their denunciation of our capture of their young men, nobles and others. The columns of the London papers were at one time open to a discussion of the subject, and the brutal frankness of some male correspondents in condemnation of English methods, whereby English girls proved less attractive than their American rivals in society, could not have been pleasant reading to any but Americans.

The problem of the surplus female population in England is a serious one, and the steady diminution of marriage, in addition to the tendency of Englishmen to seek wives among the daughters of the Philistines, is a burden grievous to be borne by the fathers and mothers of large families of girls.

With this prejudice on that side of the water is a growing dislike on this side that the Briton should carry off the number of Columbia's daughters which he does an opposing condition which accentuates the strength of the attraction between the American girl and the Englishman.

It was proposed in a London women's periodical a few years ago that an association should be formed to induce widows to refrain from marrying a second time as a matter of justice to their own sex.

It was broadly hinted that royalty had purposely set an example. Reference was not made to the Queen, except as an instance of undying loyalty to the memory of her husband, but to the young Duchesse of Albany, who might reasonably be expected to have taken unto herself "another mate."

"The great dread of an English mother," says a New-York woman who has lived years in England. "is lest her daughter should acquire the unpardonable reputation of being fast." Little girls are taught to be shy and quiet."

"An unmarried woman unless she be of an age when she is awarded the same license as the matron, which is not before forty, can commit no greater solecism in society than to engage in a natural vivacious conversation with a young man, even in a drawing room where numbers are present.

"Why, what harm could there be? You were all there and could have heard every word that I said," protested a young American friend of mine who had been reproved for such a misdemeanor.

"A young girl should never lead in a conversation. She should be an attentive listener," was the sententious reply of a typical English matron."

If such restraints are placed upon English girls when in company it may readily be imagined to what extent the system of chaperones is carried. "I never spent half an hour in a room alone with Mr.___until the night before we were married," said an Englishwoman.

"How did he propose?" was the question that burst in voluntarily from the listener's lips. " He asked my brother for me," was the complacent answer.

Mr. Howells had not then written his near little summary of this state of affairs, in which he says: "In this country if a man loves a girl he tells her so; in Europe, he goes and tells her grandmother."

But human nature cannot be suppressed, and English lovers steal kisses and whisper sweet nothings in dark corners in spite of sharp surveillance. Perhaps the stolen sweets are all the sweeter, who knows!

An unprejudiced study of society in the two countries leads to the belief that a combination of the English and American plans would be ideal. The English girl is subjected to too much espionage, the American to too little.

It is not at all unusual in this country for a young man to become an accepted suitor, and in some instances, even a bridegroom, when he is a comparative stranger to the father and mother, sisters and brothers of his fiancÚ.

In England this could not happen. When an English suitor calls, either before or after his declaration, he is received by the family. After the betrothal, which is considered a much more solemn contract than in America, he is virtually one of the family.

A word about the English estimate of an engagement contract may not be out of place. In olden times the "betrothal." which now forms part of the marriage ritual, was a separate service, taking place months or even a year before the marriage.

There is evidence of separate espousals having been made in England as late as the time of Charles I. The record of one such bears a date three years previous to the marriage entry.

Although the formal religious recognition has long since been forgotten, the spirit survives, and just cause must be shown for breaking an engagement or society looks askance, and is apt to invent reasons at the expense of the woman.

Marriage, to a certain extent, is freedom to the English girl. That is, an English matron may talk to whom she pleases, go where she pleases, do as she pleases within certain limits, which would not be considered limited even by Americans.

But such freedom is only when she is abroad. In her home she is more than ever bound to subject herself unto the higher powers.

"I have been married forty years, and never crossed father in my life," said a dear old lady whose conception of wifely duty had been so faithfully carried out that, though one might differ with, one could but respect her.

"I am his wife, therefore I must be subject to him in all things," writes a young matron in a sorrowful burst of confidence.

"So this is Jack's chair." said an old gentleman to his American daughter-in-law who had drawn an easy chair in front of the open fire for his benefit. "And I suppose he comes home and sits down here, and you take off his boots and fetch him his slippers, and",

"No, father," was the reply. "That is Jack's chair and he sits in it, but he takes off his own boots, and the children bring him his slippers."

The old gentleman stared and probably thanked the goodness and the grace (according to the little hymn which all English children learn) that had saved him from taking unto himself an American wife.

"I am inclined to doubt the happiness to be found in international marriages," says a close observer; that is to say where an Englishman marries an American girl. "He expects a subservience and an amount of personal attention which American women are accustomed to receive, not to give. On the other hand, I have reason to believe that were American men to marry English women, the result would be most fortunate, for each would be flattered by a deference and service never anticipated."

There is one more relation of life which needs to be noted, and in this Americans may envy their sisters "over the sea." The devotion of children, especially of sons to their mothers, is one of the most charming phases of English home life.

"The mater" is a goddess to her boys. From his earliest years he is taught by his father to yield implicit and instant obedience.

As soon as he can reach the door handle he must run to open the door for her when she enters or leaves a room. He must provide her with the most comfortable chair, he must fetch and carry for her, look after her comfort, and anticipate her every wish.

A hint of the service an English son renders to his mother may be had from the printed accounts of the conduct of the Prince of Wales when, on state occasions, he appears with the Queen. It might be supposed to be more Court etiquette, but it is, in fact, the deference of an English gentlemen to his mother.

 

 
 
Website: The History Box.com
Article Name: The Englishwoman At Home 1893
Researcher/Transcriber: Miriam Medina

Source:

Bibliography:  The New York Times May 14, 1893
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