Unmasking the Bourgeoise

Anticipation of Marriage

A Love Story




Real Life

The decision to marry during this period took on a new importance as both the patterns and the meaning of marriage changed. In France, the proportion of people who married increased, and the average age of marriage dropped. "Between 1835 and 1885, the average age at first marriage fell from 25 1/2 years to under 24" (Tilly, 91). With marriages starting earlier than before, women could spend the majority of their lives married than in the past.

Women came to view marriage very differently than ever before. The idea of "romantic love" infused in literature had an impact on what they came to expect from marriage--as providing greater emotional satisfaction for both men and women. Moreover, many of the stories written throughout the nineteenth century exposed the pivotal importance of how women's role and security in life depended on marriage. For women whose sole existence was marriage, the decision to marry and of choosing a suitor was agonizing. The following excerpts from Stephanie Jullien's letters to her brother and her father illustrate this point. Again and again, she writes of her confusion and hesitation as she weights what she knows as the biggest decision of her entire life.

A Young Bourgeoisie Contemplates Marriage:

[Stephanie Jullien to her brother Auguste]

Wednesday, March 6, 1833

Mon Dieu! Such indecision! Such perplexity! What should I do! I almost wish I were not so free, that I were restrained or controlled, so that I would not have the responsibility for my future unhappiness or happiness. Because the more I think about it, the more confused I become, the more I hesitate. I get lost in my thoughts and can't make up my mind.

- Stephanie

Thursday, March 7, 1833

It's me again. Perhaps you are waiting for a positive response. Mon dieu! I am just more confused, more indecisive, wavering, and irresolute. ….And now with papa's fortune running out. But to become engaged? How do I know that in two years he won't change his mind or that I myself will not want to marry someone else?

- Stephanie

[Stephanie Jullien to her father]
This letter introduces the financial and social elements, two huge aspects of the decision-making process.

April 6, 1833

The three great obstacles against him are his extreme youth (his is only six months older than me) and his lack of fortune (he can only bring 20,000 francs to the marriage). If I marry, I want to be sure that, if I don't marry a very rich man, at least I'll marry a man who has enough wealth to keep me from the brink of want, from worries and cares. Finally, the third objection, on which my aunt lays great stress, is that he hasn't made a position for himself; that it will take him many years to do so; that his extreme youth [does not inspire?] confidence; that no one knows if he has talent, if he has a capacity to succeed in his chosen profession…


This letter, written more than two years later illustrates Stephanie's desire to marry for emotional happiness and in doing so makes a case for herself--as it being a decision that will either make or break her life.

February 20, 1836

I am asking for more time. It is not too much to want to see and know a man for ten months, even a year when it is a matter of passing one's life with him. There is no objection to make, you say. But the most serious and the most important presents itself: I do not love him. Don't think I am talking about romantic and impossible passion or an ideal love, neither of which I ever hope to know. I am talking of a feeling that makes one want to see someone, that makes his absence painful and his return desirable, that makes one interested in what another is doing, that makes one want another's happiness almost in spite of oneself, that makes, finally, the duties of a woman toward her husband pleasures and not efforts. …I hesitate, then. I wait for duty's sake, for reason's sake, for necessity's sake. I only want to make sure that I don't risk my happiness and my virtue. I want to be sure that I will be able to fulfill my duties.

Jullien Family Papers, 39 AP 4, Archives Nationales, Paris as cited by Hellerstein, 144.