By Margaret Harvey
Honor’s Thesis, The College of William and Mary, 2008
Introduction: For the Victorian heroine, no goal is as important to her happiness, social position and financial security as a successful courtship that leads to a successful marriage with a suitable man. Courtships are a common plot element for the Victorian novel, but what comes after the courtship is not as well defined—or often not depicted at all. This period—spanning the marriage proposal that culminates the courtship, the actual wedding and the first year of the marriage—is one of great upheaval in the heroine’s life, a period where she must transform herself from the virgin bride to the wise and responsible wife and mother that she is expected to become. The change occurs on two levels; on a practical level, the transition from bride to wife involves taking on a new name and making a new home that she will share with her husband. On the psychological level, the girl must prepare herself for the unknown and previously forbidden world of sexual knowledge and pleasure, where she must be ready to please her husband and perform the conjugal duties that he will expect of her and could demand by law. Moreover, the engaged heroine must prepare for a new phase of her life where she will be physically and emotionally dependent on a man outside her immediate family, whose name and family she will take on as his new wife.