Reader, I Married Him is an excerpt from a book called, “What Jane Austen Ate and Charles Dickens Knew. ” The book was written by Daniel Pool, and was meant to be a commentary on the facts of daily life in nineteenth century England. Throughout the novel as a whole Pool goes over, fact by fact, what it was like to live in nineteenth century England, something that many people know hardly anything about. This particular excerpt from the novel goes into detail, explaining the cold hard facts about what a marriage was to be like and why it was to be so in nineteenth century England.
The excerpt specifically comments on sex, dowries, courtship, and what a true Englishman’s home should look like. Pool begins by explaining how important a marriage is, not only for the sake of the union of man and wife, but for the business reasons. He explains that courting a woman is an investment, therefore, a woman leading a man on in any sense is disrespectful, and a waste of his time and money. It is clearly stated that when a woman agrees to the union she is surrendering all that she has in order to be with the man of her choice.
It was heart wrenching to read about how marriage, in such a society, was nearly completely a monetary transaction rather than the union of two young lovebirds. It is obvious that Pool is just as disgusted as the reader should be by the fact that a married was not considered sacred to the English in the nineteenth century. Marriage settlements were very intricate and, in my opinion, selfish on both parts. It seems as though people were looking out for themselves in all aspects, which is clearly not the way a marriage is meant to be.
Pool also went in depth into the actual process and ceremony part of the union. The four different ways in which your marriage could be validated and carried out all seemed arbitrary. The silly little rules that made the decision of when and how a marriage was validated seemed so subjective to me. For instance, until the late 1880’s a marriage had to be a morning affair, celebrated by a wedding breakfast. After the couple was married they were considered to be one person. To my surprise it was specified that this one person was the husband, so in turn he wife has basically lost her entire identity. Sex, something that today is fairly openly talked about, and both men and women for the most part, freely express sexuality, would have been taboo to speak about in nineteenth century England. According to Pool, women were not allowed to have any sexual contact before marriage. This includes an arm around the waist, and most definitely kissing. To my surprise, it sexual contact was actually guaranteed to men by law through marriage, whether the wife wanted the contact or not.
This further supports the fact that upon entering a marriage a woman truly was giving herself up wholly. As time went by the Evangelists began to dress with more and more coverage. The women wore shape hiding petticoats and then men switched from form fitting tights to pants. They began wearing more and more of the asexual color black to take away from their look and appeal in general. This made it easier to avoid sex before marriage, however, according to Pool, people were still left with what to do about a sexual outlet before one was married.
For men the solution was easy, they were having sex with prostitutes and servants. I was surprised to find out that there were large numbers of prostitutes and pimps even back that. In addition to the prostitution, homosexuality was mildly common. However, this was punishable as a criminal act. After reading “Reader, I Married Him” I quickly came to realize that things back then were both similar and different than they are now. The extremes are what shocked me the most.
The fact that women were forced to completely give of themselves to men was upsetting. The fact that homosexuality was considered criminal was disturbing but not completely astounding. Through this course in general I’ve learned that things really have evolved in a big way, but not totally. Homosexuality is still frowned upon in many societies and women still are asked to give up part of their identity. We still have quite a ways to go in order for things to be the way that they should be.