Can a man really be forced into marriage? This is a key question posed in Marriage by Decree, the Signet Regency Romance by Ellen Fitzgerald. Published in 1988 and part of Signet’s Romantic Interludes, this is only one of a few that Fitzgerald wrote for Signet. The story wasn’t half bad, but I didn’t find it to be a keeper, as the magic just wasn’t there.
Back to the question: Can a man, or a woman, for that matter, be forced into marriage? Certainly in some cultures, yes. In the Britain of the Regency Era, though, it was a lot easier for a man to escape an unwanted marriage than a woman. They simply had more resources, especially legal ones, to avoid it. However, this isn’t really what the author refers to in the story. What she’s talking about is the nature of manhood, primarily man’s purposeful pursuance of romance. Basically, it works like this: The man pursues, the women succumb. Don’t believe me as now women are so liberated? Women, try chasing and winning a man who doesn’t want you. Time and time again, you will find it just doesn’t work, but with the tables reversed, women often give in and/or are won over and it all works splendidly. And that is actually very romantic.
In Marriage by Decree, two people are decreed by royalty, aka, the government, to get married. Scandal being the reason. Alice Osborne, our heroine, is an American this time, and not too fond of the British due to the Revolutionary War and its following skirmishes and battles. Alice’s father, Charles, is more optimistic about improving relations between the two countries, and has agreed to be a diplomat to London at the request of the President, who in 1815 would have been James Madison. As they travel by ship to England, Alice is openly scornful of anyone on the ship who looks as if they might be a British soldier.
Deep down, though, Alice is a good soul, and during a storm on the sea, saves one of those soldiers from being washed overboard. This part I thought could have used more description. Help came too quickly, though the way some women can scream, would definitely garner immediate attention. At any rate, despite holding him fast and screaming, Alice doesn’t do much, it’s one of the sailors who gets the solider below deck. Despite that fact, tall, dark, and handsome Robert Saint-Aubyn is overwhelmed with gratitude for the pretty red-headed eighteen-year-old. The lesson, here, ladies is to assist handsome men when they are in dire need as they will be extremely grateful and will perhaps even want to marry you.
Despite what would normally be a turning point for someone, Alice is still scornful of Robert, though attracted. Definitely attracted. Sadly, he already has a fiancee, something Alice’s friend Phoebe bemoans, as she has been instantly smitten. When they arrive in England, Alice and Phoebe part ways, as Phoebe’s going to live in Scotland. The Osbornes settle in London and Alice is able to meet Richard’s fiancee, Janet. At first, Janet seems quite helpful to the women who saved her fiancee’s life, but the “help” soon grates on Alice, who as an American is used to more freedom.
Janet sends a harridan of a woman to be a companion to Alice, but the woman proves to be overly strict, causing Alice to react poorly, leaving the house secretively to meet men she barely knows, much to her father’s horror. Of course he responds by making her prison even tighter around her. It is not without reason that Alice should have a chaperone everywhere she goes, the streets of London aren’t always safe, men do have sinister motives, and young women are very naive. However, Alice is more naive than most, and that grated on me during the story. She is so loathing of Britain in the beginning, yet how quickly a handsome stranger persuades her throw caution to the winds.
Soon Alice finds herself in truly dire straights. The handsome fiend, a womanizer named Lord Winston, helps her escape her house in the dead of night and take her hours away to the whorehouse of a French emigre. Alice’s stupidity doesn’t end there: She allows the Lord to ply her with enough alcohol to make her drunk and lead her upstairs to “rest.”
In comes our hero, Robert, who has not forgotten Alice and keeps talking about her life-saving heroics to Janet, who is obviously quite jealous by this time. Turns out Lord Winston is a friend of Janet’s and they have both plotted together to ruin Alice. Winston will sleep with Alice and leave her, allowing her to fall out of all good society. When Robert hears of this he goes into knight errant mode and immediately takes off to rescue Alice, with barely a thought for Janet in the process. After the rescue, the pair find it slow-going to get back to London and have to stop at an inn at which there is only one room left. When Robert drops her at home, the servants hear him speaking of their adventures and scandal ensues. So much so that the Prince Regent himself, a friend of Robert’s, decrees that Robert and Alice must marry even though they did not sleep together. Janet leaves Robert and he caves, agreeing to marry Alice.
At first it seems as if the two may make the best of things with this unwanted marriage, but after arriving at Robert’s estate called The Towers (Wives and Daughters! So have to read that again), he takes off for days, deserting his new bride. Alice despairs, thinking she will never find happiness with a man who was forced to marry her. But her servant wisely says that no man can truly be forced into marriage. On some level, Robert did in fact want to marry her. Robert himself struggles with this reality. He finds himself needing some time to get over Janet, who has stupidly eloped with Lord Winston, but when he returns is resolute, and also horrified to find that Alice has been riding out with Tim, one of the stable hands–not romantically, of course, but servants will talk. He is at once afraid that all women are like Janet, but soon finds that Alice wants to be true to him, it’s just that she needs some help.
Here’s a lesson for the men: It’s not logical and if they try, women can fight against the mentality, but if a women doesn’t have some kind of connection with her man for a few days, she may become anxious. This is entirely due to the nature of women. We want to please men and we want reassurance we are accepted. If we don’t think we’re accepted, we may determine to find out how to get accepted, to be pleasing, change our clothes, or hair, even behavior. We really are very anxious to please. A women who doesn’t hear from her partner in a few days will be much, much more anxious than a man will. A man will logically think she’s just busy. A woman will illogically think there must be something wrong. Men in relationships, help yourselves out here: Don’t leave your woman hanging for too long. Connect with her as much as you can and reassure her that she is the one you want. Yeah, it’s annoying, but it will save you so much time and energy in the long run.
This illogical anxiety is Alice’s state of mind and she just doesn’t have the maturity to realize it for what it is. Her servant helps her the most by telling her that Robert wouldn’t have married her if he hadn’t wanted to do it. Neither prince or country could make him. Robert comes back and proves that this is true. He soundly beds his wife and makes her incandescently happy.
The last half of the story I didn’t find super interesting. The villainess Janet rises again, being as she’s one of those people who think if they aren’t happy, no one should be happy, and it just gets over the top, what with Alice getting kidnapped by an angry ex-soldier and held hostage. It was just too, too much, although the contemplating of the mood between America and Britain at the time I did find interesting. It’s not something we think a lot about today. Not a bad story, not bad writing, but forgettable. Nothing really stood out about it to me, except the intriguing question from above.
We are in different times today, and in many countries it’s not likely one would be forced into marriage. I think it likely few of either sex today would allow themselves to be forced into a marriage they didn’t want. Men sometimes say that women trap them into marriage by getting pregnant, but I think it’s just something they say to avoid the fact it was their choice to sleep with the woman and also their choice to marry her. It’s takes both a man and a woman to make a baby. It just does, and it’s silly to blame another person for choices one freely makes. So, can a man be forced into marriage? Can a woman? Do babies force marriage? It is a true kindness and goodness to a child if his parents are married, but our current society doesn’t make it mandatory. I think the answer is that no, neither sex is forced, not these days. If they get married, it’s because on some level they want to either be married to that person, or to just be married.
One more thing for women: Women’s anxiety over her man. It’s a thing, we do have this, but if you are married to a good man, or even a bad one, remember that he chose to do it. He chose you instead of all the others out there. There should be some security in that. And often if he’s not in touch or not around much, he truly is busy. He’s dealing with work or projects he has to get done. Men, I would like to say the reverse is true, but it’s not a great sign if your woman is not in touch with you. Working women are in fact forced into single focus man mode while on the job, so that’s an exception there, but otherwise it’s generally not in the nature of a woman to stay disconnected from you. We crave those connections constantly.
Alright, and that’s my Regency Romance advice for today! What do you think? Do you think that’s true about men and women or am I just spinning yarns of worlds here? Too many romances going to my head, perhaps?
Up next week, a review of Missing: The Other Side, a ghostly tale perfect for Halloween.