Courtship/Marriage in the U.S. during Victorian Era
February 22, 2013 8:27 AM   Subscribe

Do you know of any websites, textbooks, regular books, podcasts, magazine articles, movie clips, etc, having to do with the multitude of rules that couples during the Victorian era were subjected to? Have to be at least somewhat credible. More details inside.

I have to do a final paper in my American History class on a subject of my choice. I wanted to do something kind of... well, different, and really have no interest in writing a long paper on the Civil War.

It's been very tough finding good sources on the topic. The library was of no help, there was exactly ONE book on the topic and it's only 20 pages long. There is one great book on the subject, however, it's about 30-40 dollars through Amazon and I'd really hate to spend that much on a book I'll use once if I'm able to find other sources. I feel like maybe I'm looking in the wrong places, there also wasn't much else on Amazon about the subject.

I feel like there should be more out there-- and if there's not, what should my next steps for this paper be? I'm not sure I can choose another subject now.

Please help!
posted by camylanded to Society & Culture (19 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Have you tried procuring the book through interlibrary loan? Have you looked for books that don't have 'marriage' in the title?
posted by hoyland at 8:29 AM on February 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

I'm not sure how to do that kind of loan-- my library was of little help. And yes, of course. I've looked for just courtship and marriage separately.
posted by camylanded at 8:42 AM on February 22, 2013

The US during this time was in a HUGE time of flux in immigration.

Different ethnic and religious groups had very different, cultural ways for courtship and marriage. Money factored quite a bit into this. Poor people had different customs than more affluent folks.

For example, on the Lower East Side of New York, the Jewish Daily Standard had ADs from people looking to be married, and Yentas/Matchmakers were and are in business arranging introductions for people. Check out the movie Hester Street to see what it was like during the time period you're interested in. A very cute, more modern movie is Crossing Delancy, with the same subject matter.

Etiquette books, like Correct Social Usage, would have appealed to folks who were estabilished in the US.

If you can do it, I'd recommend focusing on a particular ethnic group (Pick Jewish Immigrants!) That will make it much easier for you!
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 8:43 AM on February 22, 2013 [3 favorites]

One thing you might include in your research searches is websites and books for historical romance writers, because the rules of courtship are the bread and butter of romance writers. There are a ton of sites and books out there describing modes of dress, societal rules, etc. for various eras. They have widely varying levels of accuracy and rigor, though, so be cautious. A lot of this will be focused on England and on the nobility, unfortunately, given the interests of romance writers, but it may help guide you to some better resources, as well.

You might be interesting in To Marry an English Lord by Gail MacColl and Carol McD Wallace. It's about American girls marrying in England, but it addresses the differences between the social mores of the two places, so it might cover some of the ground you need.
posted by jacquilynne at 8:46 AM on February 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

Or The Buccaneers by Edith Wharton. There's the book and the mini-series.

It's about American girls, the daughters of an industrialist, going to England to marry men with titles.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 8:48 AM on February 22, 2013

When you say the library was of little help, did you ask the staff? Because if they don't know how to do a basic interlibrary loan I would wonder about how functional your school was in general.

If your school library has a small collection I would look at the local public library for an encyclopedia of marriage (my public library has several) as well as general books on marriage, american history and women's studies. Are you you really looking at movie clips? Because a paper about movie's fictional representation of victorian marriage is very different from a paper about the facts of Victorian courtship. Same with the websites and podcasts, have you been taught how to critically evaluate information? You should not be looking at magazine articles, you should be looking at journal articles. I did a quick search and pulled up a large number of really good papers, quick reads that are dense with information. It seems like you are just using google and amazon to research. That is not appropriate for academic research, have you not been taught to use databases?

This assignment is not just evaluating how you write about the topic but how you research and what you do when you hit a roadblock in your research. If the staff at the school and public library are not helpful then be proactive and read the library website (or the public library website) and find out how to get access to the databases (or ask the staff how to get access). Your teacher/professor should also be able to guide you in how to research appropriately, going to them before the due date and saying you want diverse sources and aid in research is not something that will be held against you.
posted by saucysault at 9:03 AM on February 22, 2013 [3 favorites]

I was talking about the library in my city, not the library at school-- their resources are very slim, but yes, I should check there. I am working and going to school full time so my time is limited.
posted by camylanded at 9:06 AM on February 22, 2013

You might also want to switch up your search terms. I never thought of America having a "Victorian Era" because they are not part of the Common-Wealth (poor buggers). Looking for information about courtship in the nineteeth century may be more fruitful. Off the top of my head, Laura Ingalls Wilder wrote about her own courtship and as it was biographical it is more or less factual. You can always go sideways at a topic like this and talk about specific historical people (like first ladies, notable women or regular people that happened to public a diary/biography) and do a little case history on each person to compare and contrast.
posted by saucysault at 9:16 AM on February 22, 2013 [2 favorites]

This podcast (single episode of BackStory, previously on the blue) may be relevant to your interests.
Hosted by three professors of US history (one a specialist in the 18th Century, one in the 19th, and one in the 20th), each episode of the radio show and podcast Backstory takes a subject from the news and looks at the American history behind it....In this episode, the History Guys explore three centuries of pre-marital intimacy. Did economic considerations used to play a greater role in coupling? In what ways have dating practices challenged class & racial boundaries? Has the idea of “romance” itself morphed over time?
posted by K.P. at 9:19 AM on February 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

You might want to search for works by Stephanie Koontz, including her book, "Marriage, a History: How Love Conquered Marriage."
posted by MonkeyToes at 9:27 AM on February 22, 2013 [2 favorites]

The Europeans by Henry James is an extremely short novel that uses the visit of a European family to Boston to contrast American and European courtship in the mid-1800s. It emphasises differences and presents them from the point-of-view of outsiders, which is probably what you want. And it's free online.
posted by caek at 9:36 AM on February 22, 2013

I never thought of America having a "Victorian Era" because they are not part of the Common-Wealth (poor buggers).

It's still called that, as a huge general thing, even so.

This site from Library and Archives Canada looks well supported. Here are some primary source excerpts from the early 19th century.

Can you clarify what level you are studying (high school, AP, college?) and what the criteria for your paper are?

Also, it's true that your library should be giving you more help than this. Were you speaking to a reference librarian? Also, if it's college, yes, your academic library will probably be much more adept at finding these kinds of texts and suggesting others. It is their specialty. They also usually have online book search and often you can make an interlibrary loan request right from your library account. Explore that.

If college, does your course have a TA? this is what they're for - you could ask them. Or write to the professor/visit during office hours for further suggestions.
posted by Miko at 9:38 AM on February 22, 2013

Try searching for things like "victorian courtship united states" on Google Scholar and you'll find free relevant articles.
posted by steinwald at 9:50 AM on February 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

Another title for you, if you're able to track down a copy:

Title: Searching the heart : women, men, and romantic love in nineteenth-century America
Author: Karen Lystra
Publisher: New York : Oxford University Press, 1989.
posted by woodman at 10:22 AM on February 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

My bad: Stephanie Coontz, with a C.
posted by MonkeyToes at 11:44 AM on February 22, 2013

Try browsing The Victorian Web. You could also search the VICTORIA list, though this will be more time-consuming.

I agree that you probably want to narrow it down - by decade. ethnic group. religious group, race, class or location - to make the topic manageable.
posted by paduasoy at 3:55 PM on February 22, 2013

I'm a History Librarian (though I am not your History Librarian, probably), and I have a few questions for you:

1. Are you looking for primary or secondary sources?
2. If you need secondary sources, do they have to be scholarly/peer-reviewed/academic sources?
2. When is your paper due?

The librarians at your school will likely be able to help you more than the public librarians, because they'll be used to these kinds of questions and will have better resources. They can also tell you about things like interlibrary loan, which is a way you can, without paying any extra money, get articles and books delivered to your school library, as long as you have a few days.

I know you are busy, but you can also call or email your school librarians. It's our job to help you do research like this. Also, all that time you've spent looking? When you ask the right librarian, you usually end up saving tons of time.

Without knowing your school, it's hard to suggest specific resources. However, here's a list of books, and you should be able to see local holdings through this search:
Books on marriage in the United States in the 19th century

Also, a couple of individual titles that might be useful:
Public Vows: A History of Marriage and the Nation
Beloved Strangers: Interfaith Families in Nineteenth-century America
Great Expectations: Marriage and Divorce in Post-Victorian America
In Joy and in Sorrow: Women, Family, and Marriage in the Victorian South, 1830-1900

Those were secondary sources. You can also find peer-reviewed, scholarly articles through a database through your library (you should be able to access this from off-campus with your campus email login info or similar) like Academic Search Complete.

There are lots of primary and secondary resources on this topic. If you're not finding stuff, ask a librarian.
posted by bluedaisy at 8:36 PM on February 22, 2013

I understand why you went to the public library but as someone who has worked in several I can tell you some have strict mandates to NOT help post-secondary students/purchase (super expensive) high level academic texts, especially if they are not an overly wealthy or resource-rich system and instead focus on serving groups that do not have access to the resources you have through your school. The librarians should have directed you to your school library and encouraged you to explore the school databases however, that collection is yours because your tuition paid for it.
posted by saucysault at 10:59 PM on February 22, 2013

Also: the public library is not an academic research library. From your previous AskMefi questions, it sounds like you are at a college, so you should be using your college library, not the public library.

There's lots of useful info up above, especially in bluedaisy's answer (which is fabulous, exactly the kind of stuff you need!) but I'd also say that you should Talk To Your Professor, or your TA if you're in a big class. When I get a student who tells me that they can only find one book on a really common topic in social history, I know they're not tweaking the search engines correctly. Part of a post-secondary education is learning how to do research, so they'll be happy to give you some tips. Marriage, women's history and family history is a massive field, so you should be able to find things quite easily. Do NOT! go with websites; you need stuff that is more rigorous.

You should also make sure that your paper topic is okay with the prof; it sounds like the final paper is very open, almost oddly so. Do yourself a favour and doublecheck to make sure it's okay.
posted by jrochest at 1:17 AM on February 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

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