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Companionate marriage, exemplified by England's Queen Victoria and her beloved Albert, who married in 1840, became the norm in the 19th century, the period that this Web exhibition explores. Partners chose each other out of love. Often in letters of the time, mates-to-be referred to each other as "my friend," and that deep friendship was the basis for their marital happiness.
Marriage had never been so highly regarded or taken so seriously as in the 19th century, and perhaps never since either. Just as in previous centuries, divorce was largely unavailable and deeply disgraceful. Marriage was for life and choosing a good partner was, therefore, a very serious and important matter. The new element in the choice of a lifelong partner was mutual respect and esteem, which began to be seen as the best foundations for happiness.
It was a period when people were strongly religious and marriage was seen as a spiritual union. A letter written by a young medical doctor to his fiancée in Toronto in the 1870s illustrates this view. Richard Barrington Nevitt was serving with the North West Mounted Police in western Canada when he wrote to Elizabeth Beaty, "[Y]ou and I are now so nearly and so closely united in heart and mind and soul that tho' our bodies should never be united still our soul-binding would last through time and Eternity" (Grescoe and Grescoe, 38).
More Love Messages
How did young people meet and fall in love? What factors influenced their choices? How did their families feel about their marriages? What were the customs and the traditions of the day? These are some of the questions that this Web exhibition will examine. The lengthy and difficult courtship of one couple, Louis-Joseph-Amédée Papineau (who went by Amédée) and Mary Eleanor Westcott, will highlight conventions of the time, but the exhibition will also look at how other courting couples fared. See Intimate Discourse
Grescoe, Audrey, and Paul Grescoe. The Book of Love Letters: Canadian Kinship, Friendship and Romance. Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 2005.
Fraser, Antonia. The Weaker Vessel: Women's Lot in Seventeenth-Century England. New York: Knopf, 1984.