We know from letters, diaries and novels that Victorian bachelors expended much thought and worry on the issue of marriage. When confronted with a potential match, they had to weigh up both the financial and personal aspects of the married state.
Financially, Victorian marriage was an expensive business. Among the very poor, perhaps, neither party expected to get much material benefit out of the union. For the lower middle classes and up, however, it was considered essential that a man was able to offer his wife-to-be an adequate establishment – whether that meant a townhouse in Grosvenor Square with ten servants, a carriage and an account with a Paris dressmaker, or a poky semi-detached on the Holloway Road with one frazzled maid-of-all-work. Men of a certain class were expected to move out of their cheap bachelor lodgings, rent (or more rarely, purchase) a family home, spend money doing it up in a suitable style, and ideally earn enough to make their wives ladies of leisure. Given these expectations, marriage presented a significant drain on male finances and may even have put some men off the idea, at least until they were better situated in life.
Along with the financial considerations came the personal, many of which would resonate today. Questions asked by men in the nineteenth century included: Do I love this woman? Will she make me happy? Can I make her happy? Can I bear to spend every Christmas until death do us part with my parents-in-law? Will I still be able to spend time at my gentleman’s club/favourite tavern, or will I be trapped at home, sucked into domestic drudgery?
Such concerns about money, love and more are reflected in a note which Charles Darwin penned when he was considering marriage. Like the thoroughly logical chap he was, Darwin drew up a list of pros and cons on the subject, which touchingly reflects the concerns of many of his fellow bachelors:
Children – (if it Please God) – Constant companion, (& friend in old age) who will feel interested in one, – object to be beloved and played with. better than a dog anyhow. – Home, & someone to take care of house – Charms of music & female chit-chat. – These things good for one’s health. – but terrible loss of time. – My God, it is intolerable to Think of spending ones whole life [sic], like a neuter bee, working, working, & nothing after all. – No, no, won’t do. – Imagine living all one’s day solitary in smoky dirty London house. – Only picture to yourself a nice soft wife on a sofa with a good fire, & books and music perhaps – Compare this vision with the dingy reality of Grt. Marlbro’ St.
NOT MARRY [cons]
Freedom to go where one liked – choice of Society & little of it. Conversation of clever men at clubs – Not forced to visit relatives, & to bend in every trifle. – to have the expense & anxiety of children – perhaps quarreling – Loss of time. – cannot read in the Evenings – fatness & idleness – Anxiety & responsibility – less money for books &c – if many children forced to gain one’s bread. – (But then it is very bad for ones health to work too much). Perhaps my wife wont like London [sic]; then the sentence is banishment & degradation into indolent, idle fool.