Monday, July 27, 2015

Money and Marriage

"When the courting at midnight has ended,
And he stands with his hat in his fist,
While she lovingly lingers beside him,
To bid him 'ta ta' and be kissed,
How busy his thoughts of the future,
You bet you these thoughts he don't speak,
He is wondering how they can manage,
To live on six dollars a week."

(From Norman Nicholson's 1870's diary)

A while back, a young man of my generation about to get married told me that he had done the traditional thing and asked the father for the daughter's hand in marriage.

I guess  he thought it was respectful and would set the relationship on a good footing.

I thought it was dumb...

After writing Diary of a Confirmed Spinster (based on true events in the Nicholson Family Letters) I have learned what this tradition is all about.


When a father gave his consent to a marriage he was effectively freeing up the dowry.

And few marriages in the past could happen without a dowry.. money that kick-started the couple's life together, often used to buy a house and furniture.

The plot of Diary of a Confirmed Spinster, which also is about the trade in Opium at the turn of the last century, revolves around this sad fact.

Edith Nicholson loses her great love Charlie Gagne in the Rossmore Hotel Fire in 1910, but she would not have lost him if her father, a year before, had consented  to their marriage.

He didn't. He couldn't. He had no money to give to the marriage and Charlie was a mere bank clerk, living hand to mouth on about 10 dollars a week.

And besides Charlie was French Canadian and a former Catholic!

Edith and Charlie 1909. Nifty dressers!
(I think Ryan Gosling could play Charlie. He's from Cornwall, Ontario.)