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The Controversy of Kissing in the Victorian Wedding Ceremony | VRChristensen

The Controversy of Kissing in the Victorian Wedding Ceremony


From The Bazaar Book of Decorum. The Care of the Person, Manners, Etiquette, and Ceremonials. Printed, 1873.

When the ceremony is over, the question sometimes arises whether the bride is to be kissed by the bridegroom. We should leave its decision to the instinct of affection were we not solemnly warned by a portentous authority on the deportment that “the practice is decidedly to be avoided; it is never followed by people in the best society. A bridegroom with any tact will take care that this is known to his wife, since any disappointment of expectations would be a breach of good breeding. The bride is congratulated by all her friends in the church, and elderly relatives will kiss her in congratulations: This is, of course, now settled beyond all peradventure of doubt by the fact that, according to the same authority, “The queen was kissed by the Duke of Sussex, but not by Prince Albert.”

So what do we really learn from this passage? Firstly, in 1873, despite what the author later says to the contrary, “the question sometimes arises.” Which means it’s not firmly established rule. That, the discussion should be had beforehand as to whether there would be a kiss or not, leads me to believe there were as many ceremonial kisses as there were avoidances of the practice. And that, by not kissing her, some “disappointment of expectations” might result.

Interesting.

I also find it interesting that the example of the Queen was used. (Note that she didn’t cite said ‘authority’) The Queen was married to Albert in 1840. That was over thirty years prior. So was the fashion only just catching on for the question to still be raised? It is fairly common knowledge that society (and that’s society with a lower case ‘s’, meaning all groups of people everywhere) adopted, as much as they were able, the practices of the court. But Victoria was not the prude we often think her. The Duke of Sussex, her elder uncle (he would die three years later) did kiss her, however. I cannot help but note that he was brother of George the IV, of King William, too. I don’t mean to suggest that the kiss was not perfectly chaste, but to found a pattern of chaste behavior after his example might be stretching it a bit.

Also, consider Albert. I find it frustrating that so much speculation has been made upon his lack of zeal for female flesh before (or in fact during) his marriage. There are men, believe it or not, whose primary objective in life has little to do with sex and more to do with obtaining knowledge, bettering the world, and being worthy of one’s place in it. For the record, he and Victoria had a healthy sex life. Neither was ashamed of it, though Victoria did often lament the consequences. She would much rather have been Queen and lover than mother, but birth control was not an option for the respectable. Albert, though, as I suggested earlier, was of a different make than many, and he had been reared for a higher purpose. Considering him in the way of personality types, he was not your ordinary man. An INTP on the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, he was a phlegmatic type, deeply introverted and kept his feelings to himself, never on show for the public to see. But he did have feelings, and rather strong ones. The prime goal of his young life was to be worthy of Victoria, and to contribute something meaningful to England and to the world. And society, at the time, had quite had their fill of George IV’s example (which was not much alleviated by William, who followed.) The fact that Albert did not kiss her in public was most probably a personal choice for him. Considering that their wedding would have been a highly publicised spectacle, a ceremony of state rather than a private and personal one, they both might have deemed it inappropriate.

So did grooms kiss their brides in the Victorian era? Well, yes. Perhaps not all of them. Perhaps those in the highest echelons of Society, or those pretending to it, did not (I’m reminded of the Lammle wedding in Dickens’ ‘Our Mutual Friend’) but it did happen. Perhaps more particularly in the country than in London. Mostly, though, literature of the era (my chief source of reference for social do’s and don’t's) skips over the actual ceremony. Books end with proposals, not weddings, so it’s hard to know for certain.

In the end, though, the final decision for what I do, is ultimately made by my impression of what the reader would want. Does the reader want to read an impossible love story, concluding with a wedding (or perhaps there are two) without a kiss at all? Well… I rather think not.

 

And if you think that was a spoiler, think again.

 

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5 Responses to “The Controversy of Kissing in the Victorian Wedding Ceremony”

  • Great post, Val–can I just say THANK YOU! You get it! It frustrates me to no end how people will read a book of rules, or laws, or any other historical guidance for behavior, and use those guidelines for how people actually behaved. If people behaved that way all the time, there wouldn’t be a rule written for it! If the question was raised, the answer isn’t clear :) Brilliantly said, m’dear!

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