When the Duke and Daphne meet (a moment you may imagine is romantic) Simon literally cannot stop commenting on her boobs. He is unable to focus on what she is saying – even as she is standing next to an unconscious man – because her breasts really are that perky. It would be comical if it wasn’t so uncomfortable. I couldn’t help but think, ‘Are we really supposed to view him as the novel’s hero?’
Joan Perkin 1993 John Murray Publishers Ltd. UK
While writing my new novella, Whitefield Hall, I started to Google a few terms—one of which was gambling in the 19th century. Victorian Women by Joan Perkin came up in the search results, so I clicked on the link. Though it had very little regarding the subject, I started to look at the book and realized that it was a treasure chest of information about the Victorian era and the challenges Victorian women faced.
Studying the contents has been an eye-opening experience. I highly recommend it if you’re interested in moving beyond the romance of the era and into reality. What is unique about the book, is that it contains text from women who lived during that time period, expressing what it was like to be a woman in a man’s world. Joan Perkins includes the lives of all women, in the upper class, middle class, and working-class, to give the reader a complete picture. To be a woman in the Victorian era was frankly unromantic. Here are a few of the many items that I found very interesting:
- The importance of class and gender in the Victorian era played a large role in a woman’s life. A quotation from Alexander Walker, a physiologist, in the mid-1800s had this to say about women. “It is evident that the man, possessing reasoning faculties, muscular power, and courage to employ it, is qualified for being a protector: the woman, being little capable of reasoning, feeble, and timid, requires protection. Under such circumstances, the man naturally governs; the woman as naturally obeys.” The general male opinion regarding the female sex was void of respect. Women, however, as general, didn’t buy into the fact that they were inferior to the male species. Wives who only gave birth to girls were considered failures in their marriages. A male child was considered far better not only to produce an heir for the upper class but to produce workers for the family of the working-class.
- No formal schooling existed for children until the 1880’s. Upper-class women were taught at home by governesses and tutors. The middle-upper class taught their children at home or paid for private schooling or boarding school. The lower-class women were self-taught or remained illiterate. I am astonished from my own ancestry research on my family in the Manchester, UK area from the 1800s to 1890s how many of my ancestors put an “X” as their mark on documents such as marriage certificates.
- On one spectrum, the Victorian era was one of prudish ideals. Sex, menstruation, and masturbation were never discussed in the upper and middle classes. Most women entered marriage completely ignorant regarding sexual relations or the female reproduction system. Sex was considered a marital duty in order to produce children and should never be a pleasurable experience for a woman. Ignorance was a means used to keep daughters pure until marriage.
- Up until the age of 21, men and women needed parental consent to marry. Marriage for the upper classes, of course, was arranged for wealth and power. Charlotte Bronte thought that romantic awakening was romantic folly. Women shouldn’t fall in love until the offer of marriage had been given, the wedding ceremony over, and the first half-year of marriage had passed. Middle-class women married men that received their parents’ approval. Finding a husband could be difficult. In 1851, there were 500,000 more women than men in England, and by 1911, the number rose to 1.5 million.
- The lower-class women lived entirely different lives. In the 19th century over a third of women were pregnant when they got married. The farming community, “indulged freely in fornication and adultery.”
- A double standard existed in all three classes. Men were not criticized for fornication or illicit sex before or during the marriage, but women were held to different rules.
- The mortality rates were astounding in childbirth. One in 200 women died giving birth. Most women had an average of nine children. There were crude and ineffective means of birth control, and abortion was a crime. Many poor women, however, attempted to abort babies and died in the process.
- Once married, a woman’s property belonged to a man. Any wages a woman earned during the marriage belonged to her husband. It wasn’t until 1882 that an Act of Parliament finally gave a married woman the right to her property at the time of marriage or earned during the marriage.
- Underpants were not worn before the 1840s. Now you know.
- There are interesting chapters regarding what women did during the Victorian era regarding entertainment and domestic life for all classes.
- We romanticize the Victorian era far too much. A wife was the property of the husband. Once again, the double standard held where he could be unfaithful, but the wife could not. Divorce came by Private Acts of Parliament before 1857 and was very costly and difficult to obtain. Men could divorce their wives for adultery; women could not divorce only on the grounds of adultery, but it had to be accompanied by either physical cruelty, bigamy, or incest. Custody of children went to the fathers, and the rights to see the children after a divorce could be curtailed or forbidden for the mother.
- The husband had the right to “to give moderate correction” if she did not obey. (Early version of 50 Shades of Grey spanking, I guess, and wives living with dom husbands.) Wife abuse occurred in all classes of society. Women had very little recourse against husbands who beat them and leaving was often not an option. Not until 1878 were women able to separate from abusive husbands and receive some type of maintenance from their spouses. Because divorce was difficult to obtain, married partners would often separate and go their way. Alternatives would be living with another lover out of wedlock or committing bigamy.
- Most women outlived their husbands by many years, and widowhood for women in all classes could be a devastating and difficult time. One in four individuals over 65 were considered paupers and ended up their lives in workhouses or asylums. Unless they had family members who could afford to care for them, widows needed to turn to other means in order to support themselves. If they were savvy enough, they may take in boarders, clean houses, or find other menial jobs in order to survive.
- There was a growing number of women who preferred spinsterhood rather than marriage because they were free to handle their money, make their decisions, and keep their illegitimate children. Middle-class women had more opportunities to pursue skilled jobs, but they were paid a pittance in comparison to their male counterparts. Lower-class women often worked long hours in factories and other jobs, and sometimes resorted to prostitution.
The book is filled with many true details from women of the past that will shock you regarding the hardships and inequality they faced. However, there are truly inspirational stories, too, about those women who worked to bring about equality and change for women.
You can order the book in paperback only at Amazon. I purchased a used copy for $6.00. When it arrived, it was an old library copy, and a bit worn. However, I didn’t mind because it’s received my pink highlighter throughout the text.
As an author, I realize that I am guilty of writing about an era and purposely ignoring the hardships that Victorian women endured. Perhaps as modern ladies, we are merely enamored by men in ascots who look dashing, rich, and handsome. We love our dukes and titled men, the fancy houses, and the lavish lifestyles and fashions. These are the fantasy men we have chosen to fall in love with between the pages, and the lovers we have given our heroines. For some reason, they appeal to us more than a modern-day gentleman in sneakers and shorts.
However, the aristocracy of England during the Victorian era only accounted for 2% of the population. Another small percentage included the upper-middle-class, which consisted of 15% of the population. These were families such as businessmen and tradesmen, who could adequately support their families.
To write about the other 83% of the population would be depressing to most readers. Frankly, I do not think that women care to read about suffering women in romance books. I know when I wrote about the hardships of one poor French woman in 1870 in my first book, The Price of Innocence, I was severely criticized in reviews for writing a “miserable story.” However, let’s be honest with ourselves. Lives for women during that time period were for the most part miserable.
In the summer, I like to spend my afternoons and sometimes part of my night reading on the bed with the fan switched on full power. This is how I came to read the book entitled ‘Cross the Ocean’ by Holly Bush. It hooked me up instantly both because of the interesting story set up but also due to the intriguing characters.
The story involves Miss Gertrude Finch, a distant cousin who lives in America, of Lady Elizabeth Burroughs. Ms. Finch is escorting another relative across the ocean to the old continent and took the opportunity to meet Elizabeth in person after keeping in touch regularly through letters. Whilst being the house guest of the Duke of Burroughs, Ms. Finch meets one of England’s famous Dukes, Blake Sanders Duke of Wexford, and best friend to Anthony and Elizabeth Burroughs. Blake is tall, handsome, and currently unattached. His wife just dumped him and left him alone with three under-aged children. Blake is all about covering the scandal of his wife’s escapade to preserve the honor of his family title and prepare for the society come-out of his eldest offspring. His attitude towards society, titles, and women put him at odds with Ms. Finch who is all about independence, who cares less of titles and how bigoted Britain is. Ms. Finch is a 32-year-old spinster whose naïveté towards romance contrasts sharply with her buoyant appearance and attitude.
The author, Holly Bush, weaves a romantic story, with carnal passions and adventure quite neatly within 364 pages. The story is well-paced and versed, with clear descriptions and a good amount of conversation. In fact, the flurry of arguments between Ms. Finch and Blake Sanders were quite interesting and at times comic. Whilst I don’t want to spoil the plot further, let’s just say that halfway through the book, the reader is transported on a voyage to America where one can read an insight of the Wild West and the development of the American land in the 1870s.
What you’re waiting for though is not a summary of the book but whether I like it or not. In fact, I have to give this book a 3 out of 5 crowns only. Whilst I did like some of the characters in the book, unfortunately, I was not drawn to the two protagonists. Both of them are ‘too much’ for their own good both physically and personality-wise. The reader can be either entranced by them or find them despicable. Personally they did not appeal to me at all. Blake Sanders reminds you at first of Mr. Darcy from Pride and Prejudice however his change of heart is too drastic, obvious, and personally not very much appealing.
What I found was a major let down is that halfway through, the characters themselves start telling you what is going to happen in the story. Of course, they don’t spell it out, but it is so obvious and predictable that you feel that you don’t need to read the rest of the book to know how it’s going to end. The twists of the secondary characters were far more interesting than the lives of the protagonists themselves. Also, it seems that the author has a fascination with pregnant women since in the book there were about 4-5 pregnancies mentioned and one speculative. I felt that this repetition was quite a nuisance and unnecessary.
The verbal battles that ensue within this book were at times engaging and interesting; especially in the beginning, but they end up being quite melodramatic by the end. Some characters’ reactions were exaggerated at times whilst others were locked up in a stereotype that I found annoying. Other readers commented across the net, that such comic relief was entertaining and sat the book apart positively. Personally, in a historic romance book, comedy is not something I believe should be major in the plot but should be secondary to the romance. Thus I found the latter a bit lacking.
Nonetheless, I do have to admit that I read the book in less than 48 hours which means that it was engaging and interesting enough to keep me hooked for a decent amount of hours. There were also some good parts that I enjoyed reading. Overall it’s a good book but it’s not so much memorable. I love books where I can fall in love with the characters and the plot. Where I become fond of them and the character development makes sense and is relevant. Thus when this magic did not take place, I did feel a bit disappointed with this book and that’s why I give it 3 Crowns – a Duchess of a Good Read (Reviewed by Countess Samantha)
Mathilda Hardwicke, a rebellious artist rejected by her family and New York society, heads west to Gold Rush California as a mail-order bride. But when fate leaves her alone at the altar, she’s drawn to Sakote–a fierce Konkow warrior whose tribe is threatened by the encroaching white men–in whose arms she discovers a savage new Paradise and a forbidden love more precious than gold.
It seems there is a rising trend in Native American romance novels, and after reading Native Gold, it doesn’t seem like a bad thing at all. The last one I read was awkward in its reconciliation between Western and Native American culture. Often they make light of the cultural beliefs by adding jumping bear references. Campbell doesn’t do this. She achieves a calming story with a detailed exploration of life in the American goldfields.
Mathilda (Mittie) is a woman looking for herself and seeking to start again, armed only with optimism and her artistic skills, she ventures well beyond her known world. While Sakote is a man losing himself and his culture, caught between Konkow pride and power, and the things he must do to survive.
Mattie is a well-created character, strong but also naïve. Audiences should be able to find something in Mattie to connect with, even if it is just her passion and drive to live in a world where she has no idea what she’s in for.
Sakote is a compelling character. Strong in his silence and peace. He is a wonderful balance to Mattie’s chaos. Some of the best parts in the book and associated with his calming influence. He moves with a gentle pace and seems to really see the world. Sakote is protective, without being constrictive or controlling, which is never a good thing.
The tension between Mattie and Sakote crackles from the second he sees her, it feels like the characters are drawn together and are completed by the other in away they are not even aware of. The book has very few actual sexual interludes, it focusing on creating a natural courtship presented in agonizingly described detail which still has my heart pounding. Campbell’s description of the way he moves, his skin, his smell is enough to sustain even my jaded mind.\
Highly recommend to people ready to fall in love and ache for a time when things were certainly not simple, but definitely a little wild. Rating: 5 Crowns – Sovereign Queen of Historical Love