Marriage Guidance

By Laura Vivanco on

Not that long ago I quoted from a 1970s guide for couples preparing for marriage. Apparently such guides are nothing new:

in the sixteenth century manuals of various sorts [...] began to be published in large numbers. These early versions of the 'how to' format covered an astonishing range of skills. Noblemen could read about how to improve their hunting, including specialised treatises on catching birds and fish. The young nobleman, or not-so-noble-man, could refine his fencing skills or learn to box. There were accounting  books for buisinessmen, books on all matter of craftsmen's practices, surveying manuals for estate managers, and books on winemaking for both the householder and the professional vintner. One of the bestsellers of the period was a manual that explained how to make a sundial in your own garden. [...] There were manuals aimed specifically at women readers too. Cookery books are already, in the sixteenth century, best-selling. (Jack 133)

There were also manuals which explained how to have a good marriage:

Heinrich Bullinger, the Swiss reformer, was author of The Christen state of matrimony, moost necessary and profitable for all of them, that intend to live quietly and godlye in the Christen state of holy wedlocke newly set forth in Englyshe (1541), translated by Miles Coverdale. It was enormously popular and went into eight editions. Although one of the first rules states the almost universally recognised necessity that 'The husband is the heade of the Wyfe', Coverdale's translation also stresses the need for husband and wife to be friends, as well as lovers, and the rewards of caring for each other particularly at the outset of marriage.

Women and men were repeatedly preached to about the duties of wedlock. Joannes Oecolampidius's A sermon ... to young men and maydens (c. 1548) warned both 'yong wemen and maydes' in equal measure against 'wanton and incontynent' behaviour and inappropriate dress. Books on marriage, principally of a practical kind, sometimes proposed new and (for the times) more subversive models of relations between a man and a woman. Economicus, the dialogue on household management by the ancient Greek polymath Xenophon, was translated into English in 1532 by Thomas Lupset as Treatise of Householde. It is even-handed in its own way. It is more 'honestie' for a woman to keep her house, and for the man to apply his mind to 'such thinges as muste be done abrode'. Women should not 'walke aboute', and men should not 'abyde sluggynge at home'. (Jack 136)


Jack, Belinda. The Woman Reader. New Haven: Yale UP, 2012.

The image of Heinrich Bullinger came from Wikimedia Commons.

Flying into History

By Laura Vivanco on

Romances, particularly category romances, are often considered ephemeral works which are of little or no interest once they become dated. A recent article by Professor Tom Baum of the University of Strathclyde's Business School, however, suggests  that as they age they may actually increase in historical value.

In the abstract for "Working the Skies: Changing Representations of Gendered Work in the Airline Industry, 1930-2011," Baum argues that "The influence of the media, whether print, celluloid or contemporary electronic, on life and career choices, particularly from a gender perspective is well documented [...] and, therefore, gaining an understanding of their role in the representation of gendered work, both historically and in a modern context, is of considerable value." He elaborates in the essay itself:

As Miller and Hayward (2006) rightly point out, many occupations remain substantially gender-segregated, notwithstanding equality legislation that has been in place for over 30 years. Likewise, role allocation on the basis of ethnicity (Adler & Adler, 2004) is widely reported in the literature. Such role stereotyping is clearly the product of diverse social factors but consumer print representation cannot be understated as a significant factor which reflects and, perhaps, stimulates change with respect to role allocations in the workplace and wider society. In a general sense, work and work roles have featured in literature since classical times, representing prevalent practice and social norms of the era in question. (1187)

One of Baum's primary sources is Betty Beaty's Maiden Flight, first published by Mills & Boon in 1956 and later reprinted by Harlequin. Beaty had "Served in the Women's Auxiliary Air Force" and "Worked as [an] airline hostess" (Grey 55) and

From her flying experience came such books as Maiden Flight and South to the Sun, which ingeniously combine the love interest with behind-the-scenes glimpses of life as an air-stewardess. [...] Beaty's close connection with flying - directly, and indirectly through her husband (who was one of the first post-war commercial transatlantic pilots) - led her to write five slightly tougher novels in the name of Karen Campbell. (Grey 56)

For obvious reasons, works of fiction do have to be treated with some caution by those engaged in historical research:

It is, of course, a matter of some contention as to the extent to which romantic, comic or other representation of a particular phenomenon is adopted as a general perception of reality within a particular or wider community and certainly within the authoritative body of writing about a subject. Morgan and Pritchard (1998, p. 5) argue that “image creators are themselves products of particular societies. The images and representations which they create thus not only construct, but also reinforce ideas, values and meaning systems”. (Baum 1187)

Baum complements his use of works of fiction with quotations drawn from autobiographical and academic texts, and he thus frames a quote from Beaty's Maiden Flight with statements by academics:

Ashcroft (2007, p. 9) refers to “the deliberate historical construction of airline pilots as elite, fatherly professionals” and the juxtaposition of the two roles is well illustrated in Beaty’s (1956, p. 46) novel

Most of the crew were staying at the St. George but the Captain waited in the car to be taken to La France, a larger and slightly more expensive hotel, which the Company felt assisted the maintenance of a captain’s dignity.

This clear distinction between the professional (and male) pilot and the rather more flighty (and female) attendant was no accident. Hopkins (1998) refers to deliberate steps taken by airlines to emphasise differential status within the airline workplace that included introducing a ship captain’s uniform and associated props, such as formal rank title and using loudspeakers for pilot–passenger communication by which means the pilot’s image was transformed into that of an elite officer. (1188)

One aspect of being a flight attendant which perhaps made the job seem particularly suitable for a romance heroine was that, as mentioned in the blurb of Beaty's South to the Sun, it was thought that "Of all the professions open to women, the one with the highest marriage rate is surely that of air stewardess." In the final chapter of Maiden Flight the heroine, air stewardess Pamela Hughes, accepts a proposal of marriage from Engineer Officer Roger Carson and

The [...] stereotypical and romantic desired outcome of a career in flight is very clearly represented when Beaty (1956, p. 191) concludes her story with  

And then, as he kissed her again, all the generally accepted theories of flight were for Pamela shattered and disproved. For here, after all her flights, as she was standing quite still on the ground, had come the wonder and excitement of taking off on a new adventure, the soaring beauty of moving over a high heaven, and the peace and security of a safe landing after a storm – all the pure joy of flight packed into the small circle of Roger Carson’s arms. 

This romantic ideal, that working for the airline was, in a sense, a staging post on the inevitable life-journey towards marital bliss and home-making, was an important USP (unique selling proposition) within the role that this form of novel was expected to play in attracting young women into the industry. (1188)



Working at Marriage

By Laura Vivanco on

At one stage in Rose Lerner's In for a Penny (2010) the recently-married hero exclaims that

Living with someone, being married to her – that’s work [...]. It’s trying to be what she needs even if it doesn’t come naturally, and struggling to understand her, and working together to make a life! It’s accepting that sometimes things aren’t perfect. (236)

The recognition that long-term relationships require work is, according to Sarah Wendell, "the number one lesson [to be learned] from romance novels" (181) because in her opinion:

courtship, the process of charming someone and demonstrating in word, thought, and action how much you care about them, does not end with the declaration of love or the commitment between you.

Courtship becomes part of relationship maintenance, but "maintenance" itself is a horribly unsexy word.  [...] "Routine care and maintenance" are among the most unsexy and uninspiring words. Oil changes, annual physicals, and food and water do not always inspire passion or the remote possibility of poetry. [...] It's better to think of the care and feeding of your relationships as "courtship" only without the pesky insecurity of not knowing if the person feels the same way about you. (181-82)

According to Kristin Celello, viewing marriage as a relationship which requires work is actually a fairly recent development in the institution's history:

The pairing of "marriage" and "work" is so pervasive and reflexive that it is difficult to imagine a time in which this was not a guiding maxim of American unions. Before the twentieth century, however, Americans did not work on their marital relationships. Rather, the "marriage as work" formula became popular in response to specific changes in marriage patterns, most notably the growing incidence of divorce in the white middle class. Furthermore, what it meant to work at your marriage, as well as the question of who performed this work, was by no means static, and, indeed, frequently contested.  (1-2)

Christine B. Whelan has summarised part of Celello's argument like this:

As 19th century ideas of marriage as duty faded, friendship, romance and personal fulfillment became more salient features of a successful 20th-century relationship. At the same time, divorce rates rose to 6.6 per 1000 women in the early 1920s. Celello argues that it is necessary to understand the 20th-century cultural panic over divorce to properly understand the new willingness to consume marital advice. To educate couples on the modern, companionate marriage—and quell the rising tide of divorce—a diverse group of experts began writing for popular press outlets offering advice for how to improve marriages and create lasting relationships.

From the beginning, whether from university professors or magazine columnists, marital advice was primarily geared toward women. Experts assumed that women had a greater vested interest in marriage, both emotionally and financially, and held them accountable for the success or failure of the relationship. Colleges and universities held marriage preparation courses throughout the 1920s and 1930s which stressed the scientific complexities of the role of "wife" in an attempt to appeal to the modern young women who, some feared, might eschew marriage and childrearing responsibilities for a career. The idea was to convince young women that marital work was a necessary and noble goal – and that working on marriage would yield benefits not attainable through divorce. (937)


Celello, Kristin. Making Marriage Work: A History of Marriage and Divorce in the Twentieth-Century United States. Chapel Hill: U of North Carolina P, 2009.

Lerner, Rose. In for a Penny. New York: Dorchester, 2010.

Wendell, Sarah. Everything I Know About Love I Learned From Romance Novels. Naperville, Illinois: Sourcebooks, 2011.

Whelan, Christine B. "Making Marriage Work: A History of Marriage and Divorce in the Twentieth-Century United States (review)." Journal of Social History 44.3 (2011): 937-39.