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The Victorian Ideal vs. Modern Romantics {Part 1}

by Kellyn Roth |
December 26, 2018

Just a couple weeks ago, I posted about how Christian girls shouldn’t wrap their worlds around marriage. And, to balance that out, now I’m going to give you some marriage advice!

Okay, okay. I’m joking! I’m really just going to ramble about a trope I’ve noticed in old books, some history, and how that relates to our modern romanticism, etc.

Are you ready for this? Because it’s a packed post! Ready … set … read!

The Victorian Ideal vs. Modern Romantics

When we think about the Victorian era, specifically the morals and societal rules, we think of harshness. Rules too restraining to follow.

I mostly agree. All the rules about courtship, dress, etc. — all the proper little restraints — were unnecessary, and, more importantly, not based in any sort of Biblical or Godly backing.

They were just that — rules. Rules to make it harder for us to be moralistic and Godly. (As if we needed any help with that!)

I see it this way: if we were cows, you could say God gave us a nice, safe corral full of lush grazing fields, a trickling brook to explore and drink from, and grain, but not enough that we could founder from it.

Basically, God gave us a beautiful world full of beautiful things.

However, God, the farmer, gave our care to a farm boy (whoever makes societal rules … so I guess society itself!), and the farmboy built a second fence which keeps us away from the brook and the lush pastures. The farm boy also gave us no grain at all when we know very well that grain is all right and even healthy in small doses.

That’s what Victorian society did. It took away all the brooks, the green pastures, and the grain.

They were so restraining that it was impossible to follow all the rules, let alone want to follow them. True morality, true purity, love, grace, and mercy were lost … and so came prudishness, that holier-than-thou attitude, pride, and so many other sins.

This is probably why the kids of the ‘20s rebelled so hard, and why today we’re still fighting to get further and further away from that “Victorian ideal.”

However, the Victorians did have some things right, believe it or not!

Victorian Literature & Romance

One of my favorite authors is Gene Stratton-Porter. I’ve read all of her books, liking some better than others, but overall, I appreciate her characters, her vintage style, and her knack for understanding humanity and society (except for the fact that one of her books is awfully racist, but yeah).

Now, Porter isn’t directly a “Victorian author” given that her books were published in the early 1900s (1902-her death in the 1920s), but a lot of her ideas were Victorian ones, which makes sense as she began writing as a wife and mother who grew up Victorian.

Throughout Porter’s books, I’ve noticed a theme, and this theme is present in other books written during this era as well.

In these books, an idea is presented of the man adoring the woman, loving her unceasingly, loving her before she admits to loving him—or even before she seems to show anything beyond friendship and respect.

Idealistic Women Writing Idealistic Books, Perhaps?

Of course, my first thought was that Gene Stratton-Porter was an idealistic woman who wanted to believe that men adored all women like that. However, I’ve since learned that that theme is a popular belief or ideal of the era. Not just of the early 1900s, but the Victorian era.

In Porter’s Freckles, The Angel expresses it best when she reveals her dismay at telling the title character she loves him first: “‘Do you mean,’ she demanded, ‘that you don’t remember that a brazen, forward girl told you, when you hadn’t asked her, that she … that she loved you?’”

In A Six-Cylinder Courtship by Edward Salisbury Field, the main character also pursues a girl with no expectation of her loving him more than “a little bit,” and the same is reflected in several other of Porter’s novels.

The idea is also presented in Jane Eyre, where the title character spends most of the movie proving the exact opposite statement—women are capable of passion, of love, even when they are not properly married.

The Scarlet Letter is much the same in its exploration of morals, passion, and marriage, though of course Hester doesn’t get quite the ending Jane does.

Even the Incomparable Miss Austen!

To explore a bit further back, we find Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. Everyone vividly remembers the saucy, back-and-forth passion of Miss Lizzy Bennet … but we forget about her older sister Jane.

Jane is in many ways a representation of this ideal despite the fact that Austen’s novels are not set during the Victorian era. She is passive, she is the one pursued, and when Mr. Bingley withdraws his courtship, she cannot simply write to him and say, “Hey bae, whut up, why you not call (on) me???”

Nope. Jane can’t do that. It’s not something a woman is supposed to do. Why? Because the man pursues. The woman simply accepts his courtship (or not).

In the end the decision lays with her, but in the beginning, not so much.

The Basic Victorian Ideal

You see, the ideal was simple—men would pursue and court the women.

He loved her until she was won over. Then she’d accept him. She was the one in power, really, though of course if he withdrew his affections, like poor Jane, the power was withdrawn, too. (Am I the only one who is driven mad even talking about this?)

After marriage, the woman might admit to a kind of passive love, inspired by him—a shallow reflection of his passion.

Her duty was to submit and respect. Love was never truly a woman’s duty except toward her children.

Is It Realistic, Though?

Now, there are so many problems with this ideal. For instance, a woman is going to love her husband! Yes, she will likely love him before they’re married—she might even love him before he loves her. (*all the Victorians gasp*)

Yes, a woman can love as deeply and passionately as a man. As Jane Eyre herself says, “I have as much soul as you—and full as much heart.” And never in the Bible does it intimate that women are to love less (or not at all).

I believe that’s because God wants us to be our loving, passionate selves—in all our relationships, from marriage to motherhood to friendship to daughter…hood.

But What About Submitting?

Now you probably expect me to say something along the lines of “submitting and obeying are outdated, too, y’all—don’t submit to your husband; that’s, like, totally uncool.”

Well, maybe it is uncool, especially by modern standards, but what do we care if something’s cool?

We’re Christians! We’re never going to be cool. We haven’t been since the moment they hung our Leader on the cross (though y’all know that didn’t go over well).

You see, it says in Ephesians 5:22, “Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord.”

Did God put that there as a joke? Was He just messing with us? Can a loving God really expect us strong, independent, modern women to submit to a filthy stinky man? (I mean, their B.O., y’all! God can’t be  serious …)

Actually, God WAS talking about how marriages are supposed to be, and NEVER did He say, “if it fits in with your ideas of modern society” or “if you feel like it” or “if what your husband asks you to do is what you were going to do anyway.”

No. He says, plain and simple, “Wives, SUBMIT.”

The second part of that commandment is, “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her.”

Husbands must extend an all-forgiving, unconditional love towards their wives.

Back to the Victorian Era

Then, to go back to the Victorian ideal, you’ll realize God’s requirements are quite similar.

  • The husband offers love and protection.
  • The wife offers obedience and respect.

These four principles (partnered with the fruits of the spirit thrown in for good measure) are the foundation of any strong marriage.

But why? If you’re a woman, you’re probably not a fan of this. I mean, the husband gets the good stuff, right? The obedience and the respect?

Well, I’ve run out of time to discuss that in this article, so for now I’ll leave you with this thought:

Whatever God decides is good and holy and just.

This Saturday, we’ll dive a little deeper into the topic.


~Kellyn Roth~


What did you think of this post? What is your “marital ideal”? (If you want to share Bible verses, please do! I’d like to see how you arrived at your conclusions.) Have you read any of the novels I mentioned? How are you doing in the after-Christmas slump?

(Also, I will talk more about this in the next post, but before you go and throw this at me, there’s a difference between submitting and allowing yourself to be abused.)

What do you think of my thoughts?

23 Responses

  1. I read many books from the Victorian period, but none you mentioned, and I’ve never seen the theme of the girl not loving the guy. I’m not saying your wrong, I’ve just never read anything like that. The War Between the States is from that period and that’s my area of study. Now, I did notice that couples weren’t supposed to express their love in front of people or in public. Maybe there were difference based on the country you were from in that day and age?

    Totally agree, there’s a big difference between submitting and abuse! Thanks for pointing this out. So many people get Biblical submission all wrong!

    I’m very interested in seeing the rest of this study!

    1. When I said Victorian, I was mainly referencing England not America – us Americans are pretty much not rule-followers. 😉 I haven’t read a lot of American authors, so I wouldn’t know.

      I mainly see the theme in authors such as the ones I mentioned in this study as well as Henry James, Anthony Trollope (I think? I can’t remember his books very clearly), etc. But I’ve never thought about how Americans do things mostly because in my research and reading I’m based on England due to … hating American literature, mostly. 😛 But it was a historical theme both in reality, though it may not have carried over to all literature.

      Yep, I felt like that needed a mention! I don’t want anyone to submit to abuse!

      1. Gotcha;) Makes total sense! I really like this topic idea ! You’ve sparked some good points!!!

        Yeah, Americans rarely follow the rules, lol, which can be good and bad!


        1. Haha, totally agreed. I’m inclined to be proud of myself as an American, but other times I’m like, “Wait … was I supposed to follow that rule? Maybe I should’ve …” 😛

  2. Submitting to someone is much easier than dying (both daily and literally) for someone.

    Biblical loving is no picnic.

    Thanks for a great post!

  3. Submitting is never an easy thing – but as you said, God says to. And if God says it, then it is to be followed whether we like it or not. Of course that doesn’t mean you aren’t capable or that you are less than your husband, only that that is the role God has made you to play.
    Just like your hand isn’t less useful than your foot even though they both aren’t used in the same way. A friend of my family once said that the husband is the head, but the wife is the neck which turns it – both are needed and not one is less important than the other. Marriage is a partnership, and as with every partnership it takes respect, and allowing someone to have the final say (a job God has placed on the husband).

    I am curious though, Kell, what are your thoughts on modesty (clothes) and dating vs courtship?

    1. YES! I 100% agree with this! God would never say women were less than men … He made us both, after all! But He does have a different role for each of us … I like how you expressed that.

      Haha, well, those are two subjects I steer away from because I have unpopular opinions, and I don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings, nor do I feel like I should force my thoughts on them! They’re not law to me – they’re just personal beliefs.

      For modesty, I believe people shouldn’t wear clothing that is obviously attention-grabbing, but I think the heart is most important. WHY are you dressing like that? Even if you’re dressing in the most modest thing in the world, if your heart is “I’m so pretty/now this other person will notice me!” then you’re still being immodest!

      On the other hand, I don’t wear dresses very often, when I do I don’t have any special rules about skirt length, I have worn bathing suits, and on and on. 😛 I feel like I could stand to offend a lot of people, and that’s not my intention at all, so I keep my mouth shut. 🙂

      But in general, I’m a very quiet and contained person, so it’s just never come up for me. For instance, I feel like wearing, say, a low-cut shirt would be SUPER uncomfortable – and when it comes to clothes, I’m a comfort-first girl! You’ll rarely see me out of jeans and t-shirt unless it’s for a special occasion or church.
      On the dating/courtship issue … I do believe in dating rather than courtship just because I don’t see a need for anything different! I don’t quite understand courtship, actually, as I never learned of it until I got on the internet and started talking to people. I had no idea what it was except in a historical setting!

      That said, I believe that when a couple is dating it should be with intent of marriage and it should be Godly – I mean, everything we do should be Godly, and I don’t see why dating has to be any different. I just don’t see the need for a different name for it.

      So basically, I believe in dating … but I think everyone needs to choose how to conduct their relationships – and that is the most lasting relationship you make except family (which you don’t get to choose!), so having God in it no matter how you go about it is an absolute must! If God can’t come first in your relationships, then they’re not going to succeed.

      1. Yeah, if you think your views will upset people I best just keep my mouth shut, lol, I have rather… strong beliefs…. (even my own family says so, which is…rather concerning?) Maybe one day I’ll dare to make an actual post about it on my blog, we’ll see…. But what I will say is, when I was younger we wore shorts and pants and all that but then we started getting into the parts of the Bible where it talks about modesty and all and God really placed it on our hearts to start wearing skirts.
        I totally think what really matters is the heart, that’s what God looks at after all – but I do feel like what Christians look like (how they dress, etc) is important too because people look on the outside, they can’t see your heart like God can. So its important to dress (modestly) in a way that would be glorifying to God (which is irritating because the Bible doesn’t give this clear set of guidelines, things would be SO much easier if it did). Anyway, I have no idea if anything I just said makes any sense….

        Now courtship… I feel like a lot of people get the wrong view of it. All it is, is getting to know someone (their views, personality, etc) with the intention of marriage at the end, and you usually have someone with you (like a sibling or parent) when visiting.
        I guess the reason why some people choose to use the word courtship vs dating is because “dating” often give the impression of a often unsupervised relationship, kissing (and all that junk), and being in a relationship WITHOUT the intention of marriage (though that goal may come after)

        In short, dating seems to have no end goal, courting has an end goal of marriage (which sounds like what you believe dating should be – I agree). My family actually had quite a debate on the matter a few weeks ago – about whether it really matters if its called “courting” or “dating”, and the conclusion was, calling it a different name is a fast way of letting people know what type of relationship you are in (vs. sitting down and explaining to every new person that you are in a God glorifying relationship and all that that means). So it sounds like what we call “courting” is very close to your “dating”. (I hope that explained it a little better?)

        Anyway, I’m so glad you stand for the Bible and bringing glory to God! (now I’m off to read your newest post! Lol). =D

        1. Thanks for explaining your beliefs!

          Obviously, I don’t agree (you know, I already said all that stuff!), but neither do I want to mess with anyone else’s beliefs!

          Some day I might fully explain why I would never do courtship (in fact, I know that if a guy asked me to court him, I’d be like, “Nope, sorry”), but I mostly don’t think it’s worth my time, nor is my goal to change anyone’s mind, so it’d be a truly selfish post. 😉

  4. Awfully nice post, Kell. (Not sure nice is the right word but like … I enjoyed it!!) And I 100% agree with you!

    A) all of us Christians, let’s just obey God, shall we? B) if you married the right person, you shouldn’t come to any moral qualms in your obedience, right? C) people be like – “Yes, my (future, hypothetical) husband must love me but you know what! I’ll return it in the same love and affection!! Obedience is out!!” And I’m like, “what if your love is meant to be displayed in obedience and respect???” D) a great Christian writer once put it this way – “a man’s power over woman is restrained by LOVE, and a woman’s power over man is restrained by the command to SUBMIT.”


    1. YESSSS! I so love that, Lisa! That quote is the bomb! That’s actually what a pastor was saying in a sermon we listened to – a man’s power over a woman MUST be tempered by love; he has to love her even if it’s not easy, or the marriage thing doesn’t work! (I’m actually hoping to talk about this more in the next post; I’m super excited about it!)

  5. I totallly agree with this! Women are supposed to be there to assist, but not to be totally in charge. Simple: God made Eve AFTER Adam, FROM Adam. He made her out of a bone from his ribs. Not too high up, because Adam is the head of the family. But not too low, because she’s not to just be trod upon as if she’s nothing. She was by his heart, because he was supposed to love her. (I once heard a whole sermon on this 😛 )

What do you think of my thoughts?

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