The Reluctant Bride Groom?

Charles Darwin, 1840, by George Richmond, ©English Heritage. Credit: Darwin Heirlooms Trust.

Charles Darwin, 1840, by George Richmond, ©English Heritage. Credit: Darwin Heirlooms Trust.

In April 1838, on the back of a letter he’d received earlier in the month, Charles Darwin scribbled down the pros and cons of becoming a married man . As an ambitious young Naturalist who had travelled the world on The Beagle and recently begun to formulate his work on the transmission of species, it’s perhaps unsurprising that Darwin’s central concern seems to have been the impact that marriage might have on his work; “If not marry”, Darwin wrote, “- Travel. Europe, yes? America????”. “If marry”, he went on, “…London life, nothing but society, no country, no tours, no large Zoolog. Collect. no books”.  Perhaps unlike the majority of bachelors, while Darwin’s concerns were partly about the loss of his social freedom (“[the] conversation of clever men at clubs”), his primary concern seems to have been the impact that being “a man tied down in London” would have on his work.

 

Emma Darwin, 1840, by George Richmond, ©English Heritage. Credit: Darwin Heirlooms Trust.

Emma Darwin, 1840, by George Richmond, ©English Heritage. Credit: Darwin Heirlooms Trust.

Despite his concerns, in July 1838 Darwin concluded that he would “Marry-Marry-Marry” and six months later he and Emma Wedgwood were married at Maer in Staffordshire. So, what was it that drove Darwin to take the plunge? While he and Emma were clearly very much in love,  if we take into account his burning desire to have the “freedom to go where one liked” and the specific timing of his decision to marry Emma (he had, after all, known her since birth) it seems that forces other than romantic interest were at work.

 

Darwin’s turmoil reminds us of the cultural pressures under which young, middle class men laboured in the early nineteenth century. While historians have discussed at length the impact that ‘Victorian domestic ideology’ had on middle class women, far less has been said about its impact on men.[1] In sacrificing some of his personal aspirations in order to have “Children”, “a constant companion” and “[a] Home”, Darwin met the expectations of a culture in which masculinity was measured not just by a man’s public professional achievements but also by his private familial accomplishments. While as a woman Emma was never afforded the freedom to decide whether or not to marry, Darwin’s private musings remind us nonetheless that it wasn’t only women who were subject to the restrictions of Victorian cultural mores.

 

[1] See L. Davidoff & C. Hall, Family Fortunes: Men and women of the English middle class, 1780 – 1850 (London, 1987) and M. Roper & J. Tosh (eds.), Manful Assertions: Masculinities in Britain since 1800 (London, 1991).

5 Responses to The Reluctant Bride Groom?

  1. Pingback: Some links… « The Dispersal of Darwin

  2. Sahyra Qamer Sultan says:

    Brilliant-”While as a woman Emma was never afforded the freedom to decide whether or not to marry”
    It’s so true even in the 21st century especially for Women coming from our parts of the world,the sub continent.

  3. Pingback: Keeping it in the Family « Darwin and Gender: The Blog

  4. Pingback: Keeping it in the Family « Darwin and Gender: The Blog

  5. Pingback: Keeping it in the Family | Darwin and Gender: The Blog

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