Dating customs in te victorian era
However, unlike most contracts, it could not be enforced because the civil courts would not coerce marriage, but the party breaking the contract was liable to damages. Furthermore, there was little doubt that the trials were enormously popular as entertainment in the assize towns.The contract had to be mutual and between parties competent to make legal contracts. Case after case recorded that the courtroom was filled, often with a 'fair sprinkling of ladies.' The audience responded to the action before them as they would to a play, laughing at jokes; 'murmuring' at unexpected revelations; and applauding at the end.Melodrama as a theatrical form had its heyday in the early nineteenth century, just at the time that breach of promise was evolving into a woman's suit for punitive damages.The convergence of these two processes was probably not coincidental" (26).In one case the jurymen continually said 'Hear, hear! Judges did not always like this aspect of the case, but there was little they could do" (25)."Like putting on a large-scale theatrical production, suing for breach of promise in the nineteenth century was a long and complicated process.Much of the action in these cases followed a similar script, which got more familiar as use of the suit broadened in the late nineteenth century.That script closely resembled a domestic melodrama, with an innocent young woman as the victim of a scheming villain, high-flown discourse, and a triumphant final vindication in court.
The engagement was considered a contract to marry and was legally binding on both parties. Of course, the man had to have made and the woman to have accepted a definite promise, but it was not necessary that all the terms of the betrothal should be settled at once. However, mere courtship and politeness were not sufficient to prove an engagement" (16-17). Barristers for both sides frequently employed the language of theatre to make their points, quoting Skakespeare, and Gilbert and Sullivan."Probably most of the defendants paid at least part of the awards, and most winners felt some pleasure and relief.But these instances offer cautionary lessons: an award from a jury was not the same as money in the hand, nor did winning a case give women (or men) everything that they wanted."Because breach of promise evolved as part of the common law, the laws governing it in the nineteenth century were worked out through precedent. Breach of promise was a personal action, and only the injured party was entitled to sue (not parents or guardians). The burden of proof was on the plaintiff, but because of the private nature of courtship and marriage, judges acccepted circumstantial evidence and hearsay.As Michael Grossberg has pointed out, breach of promise was 'a curious legal action, a peculiar combination of contract and tort.' Despite this fact, most writers agreed on the nature of the suit and the standard procedures for both the plaintiff and the defense. The court also accepted the validity of conditional promises if the agreement was 'suitable.' For instance, a man could promise to marry when a business venture had ended, or a woman could agree to marry upon attaining a dowry. A person under twenty-one could sue but not be sued for a promised made before his or her majority. Proof of a proposal could be inferred from visits, 'walking out' together, stating intentions to third parties, wedding preparations, gifts, or the expectations of relatives and friends. both theatrical and conservative, although in this case the conservatism was helpful to the women involved, making them the helpless, and ultimately redeemed, heroines in a melodrama.