Whether meeting (or creating) the perfect mate, experiencing a marriage gone wrong or finding lifelong love, romance is a main theme in much of life. Here are a few historical accounts of real-life relationships:
When Thomas Day, an influential 18th-century British intellectual and philosopher, found the ladies of his acquaintance to be lacking, he decided upon an audacious plan: adopt two orphaned young women in the hopes of creating the “perfect wife.” Obviously, this plan was doomed for failure (both women married other men). However, it’s both fascinating and a bit disturbing to learn of Day’s Rousseau-inspired plans to create the perfect mate. The story of Day and the two young women he adopted became an inspiration for George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion (and later the film My Fair Lady).
To Marry an English Lord by Gail MacColl Jarrett
If you’re a fan of Downton Abbey, you’ll enjoy Jarrett’s gritty, realistic account of the high society marriage mart. Jarrett’s obviously done her homework; To Marry an English Lord is meticulously researched and includes photographs and in-depth descriptions of the wealthy brides-to-be. The high society of the Gilded Age is laid bare, along with the motivations of the young, wealthy American heiresses willing to leave home and country to marry into aristocracy.
Sadly, romance doesn’t always end well. For poor Mary Eleanor Bowes, both romance and marriage went very badly indeed. After the death of Bowes’ first husband, she found herself in the unique position of being one of the wealthiest and most eligible women in Britain. Bowes was quickly trapped into marriage by army captain Andrew Stoney. Stoney was abusive and began decimating Bowes’ fortune. However, he didn’t count on Bowes’ determination to remove Stoney from her life and home, which led to one of the most publicized divorce trials of the time.
Love, Fiercely: A Gilded Age Romance by Jean Zimmerman
In contrast to Wedlock, Zimmerman’s Love, Fiercely details a dynamic and happy relationship which lasted a lifetime. Edith Minturn, nicknamed “Fiercely” by her family, and her husband I.N. Phelps Stokes were childhood friends and members of the Gilded Age’s high society. As their friendship grew into love and marriage, Edith and Newton–as he preferred to be called–used their wealth and privilege to further social and political causes. Edith was a dedicated suffragette and Newton created affordable housing for the poor. Not only an endearing portrait of a loving marriage, Love, Fiercely captures the exciting world of the early 20th century.