Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Maria Grace with The Courtship & Marriage in Jane Austen's World

Today, I welcome Maria Grace back to More Agreeably Engaged. Her latest release, Courtship & Marriage in Jane Austen's World, is about a topic that I have always found interesting. We read so much about that theme and its importance in all the books by Jane Austen and others of that time period. It was such a different world in that respect than today's world in the US, but not so much different in other parts of the world. 

Maria Grace is going to give us some answers to questions that may have arisen for many of us as we read these novels. Thank you for sharing these enlightening answers, Maria.


Thanks so much for having me, Janet!

One of the biggest challenges for fans of Jane Austen’s works is the two hundred years that have passed since she wrote. Customs have changed so dramatically that things which were obvious to her original readers leave readers today scratching their heads and missing important implications. It’s amazing how much of Austen’s stories we miss not understanding the context she wrote it.

One of the most bewildering aspects of courtship in the regency era was etiquette and customs surrounding marriage proposals. I’d like to tackle a few ten big questions readers have about the courtship and marriage in Jane Austen’s world.

Why did so many Austen heroines have dowries? Did all women have them? 

The purpose of the dowry was to compensate the husband for the woman’s maintenance for her lifetime. Ideally interest off it provided a woman’s spending money, it provided for daughter’s dowries and younger son’s portions, and established her support in widowhood.

Not all women had them and those who did rarely had even the one thousand pounds each that the Bennet sisters had. Often lower class women would take positions as servants to earn money for their dowries hoping to save fifty or so pounds for their marriage.

What was a marriage settlement and how was it worked out?

A marriage settlement was a prenuptial agreement written by lawyers representing both families. Both families would have to accept the agreement.

It specified the financial arrangements of the marriage. These included what, if anything, the two families would contribute to the couple, what the woman’s spending money (pin money) would be, what amount would be set aside for daughters’ dowries and establishing younger sons, (Only the lump sum was set up, the distribution would be decided later), an provisions for a woman’s widowhood, through establishing an annuity called a jointure. The process was expensive and only about ten percent of marriages had them.

When Darcy proposed to Elizabeth the first time, she had no idea he had any interest in her. Could this have actually happened?

It could have. Rules of the day insisted neither should openly declare their feelings for the other until a proposal was actually offered. To make matters worse, both men and women were strongly cautioned to be very discrete in their interactions with one another and they would always be chaperoned when together. All that together makes it possible that a young woman could be completely surprised by a proposal.

If young women were supposed to be constantly chaperoned, why did Mr. Knightley spend time with Emma without a chaperone?

In Emma, we see the ‘close friend or family’ clause invoked. Mr. Knightly has been a family friend for at least a decade. He and Emma are allowed liberties to walk and talk and keep company together because of the closeness of their connections. In Mansfield Park, Edmund is also permitted the same liberties with Fanny Price for the same reasons.  She is family and not considered a marriageable partner in any case because of her low status (being a cousin did not disqualify her from being an eligible match.) Edward shares unchaperoned moments with Elinor in Sense and Sensibility because his is considered a family connection through his sister, their half-brother’s wife. In contrast, in Pride and Prejudice, Elizabeth walking in the woods at Rosings Park with Mr. Darcy or Col. Fitzwilliam—with whom she has no such connections—is highly improper.

 If people needed to be introduced to be able to even have a conversation, how did you meet people if you didn’t know anyone to introduce you?

At a public ball, the Master of Ceremonies could conduct this service to enable gentlemen and ladies to dance, though he might not be acquainted with either party. In Northanger Abbey Henry Tilney fetches the Master of Ceremonies to introduce him to Catherine and Mrs. Allen so that he might properly converse with them.

Why did Julia Bertram elope after her sister, Maria, ran away with Henry Crawford?

Maria's actions were so egregious they could permanently ruin her standing in society.
The stain might easily extend to Julia as well, possibly ruining her chance for a good match. Thus, she elopes, whether to attain a good match before it becomes impossible or just to avoid getting blamed for Maria's misdeed, the reader is left to decide for themselves.

Was it a favorable match? Julia elopes with The Honorable John Yates, who had been pursuing her since their introduction. Although the book doesn't tell us much about Yates, his title reveals he is the son of a peer, and thus, not an entirely inappropriate match for the daughter of a baronet. So that is some good news for the poor girl.

Why did Maria Bertram bring her sister on her honeymoon?

Often, the bride's sister or closest female friend accompanied the couple. To the modern eye, the custom seems weird at best, but since the bride and groom might have spent little time alone with one another prior to the wedding, relying only on one another for conversation and company could be very awkward. Having another person along could ease the transition for everyone.

Why doesn’t Mrs. Dashwood inherit the house or anything else when her husband dies?

In the early eighteen hundreds, inheritance was a little more complicated that it is today.  While it was possible for women to inherit, it wasn’t common Usually an estate would go to the eldest son. Younger sons and daughters might inherit cash from a lump sum set aside for the purpose at the time of their parent’s marriage. . Wives had no right to their husband’s property; daughters could only inherit and estate if there were no sons born and the estate wasn’t entailed like the Bennet’s in Pride and Prejudice.

In the case of the Dashwoods, the eldest son inherited the estate. Provisions made by the previous owner of the estate, Mr. Dashwood’s uncle, prevented him from leaving any part of the property to his second wife and daughters.

Since the heir was not the current Mrs. Dashwood’s son, he had no obligation to her. Thus, she and her daughter’s had to leave their home and settle elsewhere.

Her marriage articles—a prenuptial agreement—laid out provision for her widowhood. The most typical arrangement would have been for an annuity (yearly payments) for the rest of her life amounting to one tenth of the dowry she brought into the marriage. She was also entitled keep the china and similar household articles that she brought into the marriage. Everything else stayed with the house and was property of the heir. So she and her daughters had something to live on, but it was a far cry from what they were accustomed to.

Still, 500 pounds a year was not a shabby income.  A middle class family could live on that quite comfortably. It was not enough to maintain a carriage, though. That would require about 1000 a year. But they were hardly impoverished.

 What was the problem with a secret engagement and why didn’t Edward Ferrars break things off with Lucy Steele when he fell in love with Elinor?

 First, secret engagements were considered scandalous moral lapses. Since marriage was the backbone of society, one's marriage state (unmarried, engaged, married or widowed—divorced was not really an option) was an important piece of public record. Carrying on a secret engagement was tantamount to lying to society at large.

Second, an engagement was effectively a legal contract, one which could result in legal action for breach of contract. Secret engagements presented a host of difficulties in managing the legal aspects of the contract.

Third, in the era, it was really all about the betrothal. A promise to marry was all but as good as a legal marriage. So keeping the engagement secret was like keeping a marriage secret.
Moreover, since a betrothal was nearly a marriage, many couples anticipated their vows—one third of brides went to the altar pregnant. If an engagement was broke, most would assume that the woman had compromised her virtue with her intended, and her reputation would be ruined. An honorable man—and a man’s honor was hugely important in those days—would not break an engagement and cause such harm to a lady.

Why were Marianne and Willoughby so shocking?

I think modern readers really miss this detail. Marianne and Willoughby were absolutely scandalous in their behavior. They broke every rule of proper decorum, leaving people to assume that they were engaged.

Riding alone in a carriage together, taking a lock of hair, walking without a chaperone, those were all highly improper and reserved for those married or engaged. When Willoughby took Marianne to see Allenham, he was effectively inviting her to start mentally setting up housekeeping. It was as close to making her an offer of marriage as he could get without actually saying the words. So everyone assumed they were engaged.

Going back to the earlier point about engagements and the behavior of engaged couples, Marianne was entirely compromised and her reputation ruined.

If you enjoyed this post, check out my new book, Courtship and Marriage in Jane Austen’s World, available at Amazon, Nook and KOBO. It details the customs, etiquette and legalities of courtship and marriage during the regency era and how it relates to all of Jane Austen’s works. 



Jane Austen’s books are full of hidden mysteries for the modern reader. Why on earth would Elizabeth Bennet be expected to consider a suitor like foolish Mr. Collins in Pride and Prejudice? Would Lydia's 'infamous elopement' truly have ruined her family and her other sisters’ chances to marry?  Why were the Dashwood women thrown out of their home after Mr. Dashwood's death in Sense and Sensibility, and what was the problem with secret engagements anyway? And then there are settlements, pin money, marriage articles and many other puzzles for today’s Austen lovers.

Customs have changed dramatically in the two centuries since Jane Austen wrote her novels. Beyond the differences in etiquette and speech, words that sound familiar to us are often misleading.  References her original readers would have understood leave today’s readers scratching their heads and missing important implications.

Take a step into history with Maria Grace as she explores the customs, etiquette and legalities of courtship and marriage in Jane Austen's world. Packed with information and rich with detail from Austen's novels, Maria Grace casts a light on the sometimes bizarre rules of Regency courtship and unravels the hidden nuances in Jane Austen's works.

Non fiction

Available at:


Author Bio:

Though Maria Grace has been writing fiction since she was ten years old, those early efforts happily reside in a file drawer and are unlikely to see the light of day again, for which many are grateful. After penning five file-drawer novels in high school, she took a break from writing to pursue college and earn her doctorate in Educational Psychology. After 16 years of university teaching, she returned to her first love, fiction writing.

She has one husband, two graduate degrees and two black belts, three sons, four undergraduate majors, five nieces, six new novels in the works, attended seven period balls, sewn eight Regency era costumes, shared her life with nine cats through the years and published her tenth book last year.

She can be contacted at:
On Twitter @WriteMariaGrace


Maria, thank you for visiting my blog as part of your stops for this latest release. I found your questions and answers fascinating and extremely informative. I feel this book will be one that I would turn to again and again when I needed a question answered. It should be a great resource for Austen writers as well. I appreciate your research and explanations. I hope your book does well.


  1. wonderful information--I enjoyed the Q&A


  2. I devoured this book and learned so much. Thank you, Grace, for your excellent research skills and perfect presentation.

  3. Thanks, Maria Grace, I loved reading your research on courtship rituals, it was as fascinating as your book on Christmas traditions. What's next?

  4. I've found all the guest posts about this book truly fascinating. I can't wait to read it.

  5. What a mine of intrigue and information!!!
    Such an interesting post,one that indeed all JAFF lovers should have by their bedside!
    Thanks to one and all for this post.