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92Victorian Review John M. Robson. Marriage or Celibacy? The Daily Telegraph Debate on a Victorian Dilemma. Toronto: U of Toronto P, 1995. $60.00 US (cloth); $29.95 US (paper). Through an investigation of the "Marriage or Celibacy?" debate, appearing in the Daily Telegraph in June and July of 1868, John M. Robson presents a detailed examination of lower-middle-class values, attitudes and assumptions, which have been overlooked by historians who concentrate on wealthier segments of the middle class. Robson stresses the significance of the Telegraph for providing a venue that brought lower-middle-class values, experiences and expectations into public discourse. The debate in the Telegraph was meaningful because its readers made less money than advice books, novels and the London Times assumed was the norm. Robson stresses that while economic pressures were greater for the lower middle class, the demand for respectability was just as onerous. Additionally, to explore the relationship between audience and journalistic practice, he compares coverage of the debate in the Times and in the Telegraph. Through this comparison Robson indicates the character of the lower middle class as distinct from the wealthier middle class represented by the Times. In both newspapers a debate style of prose was used, both made connections between the evils of prostitution, and both addressed the social and economic factors limiting early marriage. While marriage was seen as a moral imperative, for both the middle and lower middle class the marriage question was never free from economics, individual character, upbringing and circumstance. The Telegraph was atypical because it included such a large number of letters and editorial comment, and as a result the narrative line was more complex. The range of topics and intensity of feeling were greater in the Telegraph, correspondents placed a higher value on romance, and the tension between the sexes was higher. As the Times was an upper-middle-class and aristocratic newspaper, correspondents were not as concerned with economic necessities. As well, correspondents did not make use of fictional accounts to make their arguments in the Times. This comparison indicates the import that can be gained through a focus on the lower middle class. Robson suggests that in some areas middle class values could be applied throughout the class, while in others lowermiddle -class attitudes were distinct. In the Telegraph series, correspondents saw a relationship between the causes and cures of prostitution, the joys, duties, and costs of marriage, and the promises and dangers of emigration. Robson asserts that by analyzing these connections we can better understand their perceptions of family life, marriage, morals, and economy. Although most Reviews93 of the contributors to the series were anonymous, they provided information about their marital status, occupation, income and families. Correspondents discussed the expenditures and costs of marriage, the distinction between the necessities and luxuries of life, as well as group and individual habits. They furnished accounts of married life, made comparisons between the life of the married and single, and forwarded portraits of the actual and ideal. The correspondents cited, referred to and quoted other correspondents in the series. In doing so, they provided a wealth of information about agreed upon and contested beliefs. Robson argues that the correspondents of the Telegraph assumed bachelors were the main clients of prostitutes, and thus perceived a relationship between high rates of prostitution and postponed marriage. While the contributors to the series believed that early marriage was proper, they thought love, devotion, prudence, moderation and fortitude were necessary components of a respectable and decent union. These requirements made early marriage a difficult goal to attain. Although claims about money were predicated by class expectations, many respondents sought to determine the minimum yearly income for prudent marriage, drawing on their own experience and providing detailed budgets to make their arguments. Writers maintained that a woman's skill as a household manager was necessary to her family's ability to live within their means. He asserts that writers contrasted between the romantic and practical points of view — many correspondents believed young girls best represented me former and single men best represented the latter. Men who defended celibacy were rigid about the dangers of early marriage. For the most part women...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1923-3280
Print ISSN
0848-1512
Pages
pp. 92-94
Launched on MUSE
2015-10-07
Open Access
No
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