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Marriage or Celibacy?

Marriage or Celibacy?: The Daily Telegraph on a Victorian Dilemma

Copyright Date: 1995
Pages: 366
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    Marriage or Celibacy?
    Book Description:

    In July 1868 the Daily Telegraph congratulated itself on providing the arena for a controversy marked by `good sense, liveliness, practical wisdom, and hearty humanity.' The controversy was over the choice -: 'Marriage or Celibacy?' - faced by middle-class youth trying to reconcile economic facts with moral values, social customs - and love. The arena was the correspondence page of a newspaper just establishing itself as the most successful London daily through its appeal to the middle-class reader.

    Public attention was first caught by a court report of a failed attempt to entrap a Belgian girl into prostitution. This induced blistering editorial comment and angry letters to the paper deploring ineffectual controls over the 'Great Social Evil.' The next development was unusual for the Victorian press: readers began to write extensive and richly varied comment on the root of the problem - young people did not have in possession or expectation enough money or the right qualifications for marriage. TheTelegraphinitiated a new form of popular journalism by filling its correspondence columns for almost a month with readers' letters under the heading 'Marriage or Celibacy?', which they supplemented with lengthy leading articles.

    John Robson places in contemporary context the central issues facing Victorian youth: What is a proper marriage? How to balance income and expenditure? What are the ideal qualities of young women and men? 'Emigration or starvation?' In examining these debates, he looks closely into methods of argument, connecting rhetorical techniques with public persuasion. The letters being a special kind of discourse, he shows how in the debates rhetorical and logical arguments are specifically designed to persuade the Telegraph's readers.

    Marriage or Celibacy?contributes to our knowledge of Victorian manners and mores, particularly among the lower middle-class, and is a telling episode to the history of popular journalism.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-7708-1
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-2)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 3-9)

    An unprecedented and extensive series of news accounts, leading articles, and letters to the editor, most of the last under the heading “Marriage or Celibacy?”, appeared in the London newspaper, theDaily Telegraph, in June and July 1868. To most people, old newspapers are mere garbage, but the new archaeology has shown that curious and obsessive diggers are actually rational scholars finding lost social, economic, and cultural gold in the rubbish. Allying myself with them, I present my retrievals from this buried series as important aids to our understanding and assessment of lower-middle-class assumptions, beliefs, and habitual behaviour in the...

  5. CHAPTER ONE The Great Social Evil
    (pp. 10-25)

    On 30 July 1868, a rather playful leading article appeared in the LondonDaily Telegraph:

    If the public has watched with an amused wonder the flood of letters poured upon our columns by the spinsters, bachelors, wives, husbands, widows, widowers, and old maids of the community, we have ourselves shared the astonishment and interest. We frankly own that we did not know what was coming when we threw open the gates of publicity for the discussion of “Marriage or Celibacy?” We have been like the fisherman in the “Arabian Nights,” who caught the simple-looking silver box in his net, and...

  6. CHAPTER TWO Marriage or Celibacy? The Daily Telegraph Series
    (pp. 26-44)

    The connection in the public mind between prostitution and the difficulties of early marriage had been raised inThe Timesa decade earlier, it will be recalled (see p. 20–1). In 1857, however,Theophrastus’s excoriation of “society’s laws,” set by parents (and custom), that rule out marriage until the young have an income enabling them to begin on the footing already reached by their parents, produced no further comment. But there was more debate in the next year, as indicated in chapter 1 above, whenThe Timesprinted a series that started, like that of 1857, with discussions of...

  7. CHAPTER THREE Marriage and Mores: Arguments and Practices
    (pp. 45-94)

    What gave potency to the question “Marriage or Celibacy?” in theDaily Telegraphwas the widespread anxiety over the belief that young people could not prudently and respectably marry. To understand this anxiety and the discussion it prompted, one must ask what marriage meant to members of the middle class in mid-Victorian England. Their assumptions and ideals were not those of the late twentieth century, and they, of course, were not concerned to explain to an audience some century-and-a-half later what their assumptions and ideals were. Further, they were addressing one another through a new and rather odd medium with...

  8. CHAPTER FOUR “The Equation of Income and Expenditure”
    (pp. 95-138)

    Whatever interpretation one wishes to put on the fact, a fact it is that the Victorians, and particularly those who were middle class, were greatly concerned about money. In assessing the attitudes towards it in the “Marriage or Celibacy?” series, a useful way of testing perceptions against realities is to ask a series of questions: How much money was needed? How much was there? How was it spent? In attempting to answer these, it is instructive to compare once again the advice in theDaily Telegraphwith that offered in fiction and advice manuals.

    In sum (though the specific sum...

  9. CHAPTER FIVE Celibates and Celibacy
    (pp. 139-164)

    As the preceding discussion bears full witness, the title of the series in theDaily Telegraphwas not fully appropriate: for the married folk, the choice between marriage and celibacy had been made. There was no dilemma, and their options were determined by the need to live decently on a small income.

    But the series had of course another set of questions, for those unmarried truly faced the dilemma, Marriage or Celibacy? This did not present, culturally or morally, an even choice, as has been seen, for the overwhelming weight of opinion was that marriage, with children, is the “natural”...

  10. CHAPTER SIX Problems and Solutions: The Ways In and the Way Out
    (pp. 165-193)

    Can “The Marriage Question” be summarized? TheDaily Telegraph’s concluding leading article in the series made a comprehensive attempt, based on the early battle betweenBenedickandErastes, under whose banners they enlisted other correspondents. And indeed the contrast between the realists and the romantics is important, not least because their differences were not, and could not be, resolved. Not only did the seemingly irreducible distance between pessimists and optimists separate them, but also the pragmatic force of belief and physical desire that propelled the young into marriage meant that unhappy and happy outcomes both provided evidence. Nonetheless, on the...

  11. CHAPTER SEVEN Emigration or Starvation?
    (pp. 194-240)

    TheDaily Telegraphseries on marriage and celibacy changed emphasis, as explained above, in mid-July 1868. From the 17th on, the great majority of letters concentrated on emigration as the only available solution to the dilemma posed by the natural and divine imperative to marry and the natural and divine imperative to be prudent. Indeed one woman correspondent perceptively noted that the subject had changed to “Emigration or Starvation?” However, the editors continued to use the heading “Marriage or Celibacy?”, and actually the marriage question was not ignored in the second half of the month and emigration had been referred...

  12. CHAPTER EIGHT Conclusions
    (pp. 241-268)

    The compliment to its readers and itself that graced the final leading article on marriage or celibacy in theDaily Telegraphremains a just judgment: “A public discussion more remarkable in many respects has seldom been conducted; and we are glad to have furnished the arena for so much good sense, liveliness, practical wisdom, and hearty humanity as have marked the greater portion of the controversy.”

    The remarkable respects include two of special importance: first, the series was a “public discussion” of a rare kind, conducted in the “arena” provided by theDaily Telegraph; in this respect—perhaps intuited by,...

  13. APPENDIX A The Correspondents
    (pp. 269-287)
  14. APPENDIX B Budgets
    (pp. 288-298)
  15. APPENDIX C Comparison of the Expenditures in “Marriage or Celibacy?” and Other Sources
    (pp. 299-302)
  16. Notes
    (pp. 303-348)
  17. General Index
    (pp. 349-359)
  18. Index of Correspondents
    (pp. 360-365)