penalties of marriage

The political and social issues of our own time have their roots in Queen Victoria and her world. She had opinions, and very decided opinions on almost everything from matchmaking to politics to the cosmos and surprisingly, some of those opinions were not so Victorian after all.

Her reign is still, the longest of any British monarch’s: sixty-three years. From the age of eighteen in 1837 to eighty-one years old in 1901. Because of the country’s energy and inventiveness, the scale of change matched the roll of time. The examples are bewildering: advances in communication, population explosion, rise of the middle-class, growth of towns, growth of slums, medicine, penal reform.

---Her childhood was a nightmare - her mother kept Victoria under more or less constant supervision. Even aged 18 she was still not allowed to go up and down stairs without someone holding her hand, and all her food was tasted for poison before she ate it. For a strong-minded girl and young woman, the constraints were all but intolerable. Victoria was kept prisoner by her mother in Kensington Palace. They shared a bedroom until the day she became Queen. She was supervised at every turn either by the Duchess of Kent or by her Governess, the Baroness Lehzen. She was never allowed out to play on her own. In fact, for Victoria, even to have visitors was all but unknown. Read more:

We could go on twisting the kaleidoscope of change until it comes up with the position and meaning of the individual in the universe. In 1853 she wondered why dinosaurs had become extinct. Six years later Charles Darwin gave the answer in his Origin of Species, which gave rise to a new flood of questions far more poignant than the queen’s casual query. “Survival of the fittest” was one thing, survival of the soul another. During the years following Albert’s death, she found herself posing some of the key questions herself. Randall Davidson , dean of Westminster, said “she asked me if there ever came over me, as over her, waves or flashes of doubtfulness whether, after all,it might be all untrue,” with “it” being the church’s teaching on immortality.

---Stephen Poyntz Denning. Victoria at age four in 1823. Read More:

The marriage of Vicky, at seventeen, to the Prussian crown prince in 1857 seemed to bring out all of Victoria’s fears about sex. Like most girls in her day, the young queen had married with only the sketchiest idea of what to expect. So the queen inundated her daughter with her own phobias about marriage, man’s sexual exploitation of woman, the trials of childbearing, and the disappointments of parenthood.

“What you say of the pride of giving life to an immortal soul us very fine, dear, but I own I cannot enter into that; I think much more of our being like a cow or a dog at such moments.” …”I positively think those ladies who are always enceinte quite disgusting; it is more like a rabbit or guinea-pig than anything else and really it is not very nice….I know that Papa is shocked at that sort of thing.”…”I have no adoration for very little babies…”  she often writes. “An ugly baby is a very nasty object — and the prettiest is frightful when undressed…”

…”It is indeed too hard and dreadful what we have to go through and men ought to have an adoration for one, and indeed to do everything to make up, for what after all they alone are the cause of! I must say it is a bad arrangement.”…”We poor creatures are born for man’s pleasure and amusement, and destined to go through endless sufferings and trials…”

…”I think people really marry far too much; it is such a lottery after all, and for a poor woman a very doubtful happiness.”  Two years later she again returns to the theme of a lottery in marriage: “All marriage is such a lottery — the happiness is always an exchange — though it may be a very happy one — still the poor woman is bodily and morally the husband’s slave. That always sticks in my throat. When I think of a merry, happy, and free young girl — and look at the ailing aching state a young wife is generally doomed to — which you can’t deny is the penalty of marriage.”… Read More:

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