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Wedding Night Terror: the uneducated virgin and Victorian England


"I think we're alone now": the Victorian honeymoon

Victorian couple on their wedding day.
Lively Arts History Association
Victorian honeymoons were very different than the tropical vacations that may come to mind today. Following a long engagement (but not too long, as that may encourage extramarital sex), newlyweds would honeymoon for periods of time from two weeks to three months in what was very often the first time the couple had ever spent alone together (Michie 32, 37). Privacy was never afforded to a courting couple. Michie's above-mentioned book was researched by reading the honeymoon diaries and correspondence of 60 newly married couples (39). In this entire body of research, only a handful of allusions to sexual activity exist (43). This fact is probably due to several reasons: first, the woman writing about her honeymoon would not have felt comfortable divulging intimate details to even her diary. Sex was not a “proper” subject, and she would have been conditioned to regard it as taboo. Also, the honeymoon was about more than the introduction of their sexual life as a married couple: this trip transformed them from virtual strangers who had never spent time alone together to husband and wife. Novelist Charles Kingsley and his wife waited an entire month after their wedding to consummate, allowing the time to become comfortable with one another. This method seems to have been successful, as Phegley cites evidence in their letters of a hot sex life afterward (140).

Probably less commonly, some marriages would not have been consummated due to ill-informed spouses. English poet John Addington Symonds remembers his honeymoon and how it was affected by sex education: “[Society does] all that lies in us to keep them chaste, to develop and refine their sense of shame, while we leave them to imagine what they like about nuptial connection. Then we fling them naked in bed together, modest, alike ignorant, mutually embarrassed by the awkward situation, trusting that they will blunder to truth by instinct” (qtd. in Michie 79). He goes on to say that this ill-informed wedding night only hurts the relationship by causing the couple to start their marriage with shame and confusion instead of joy. This initial shame would surely hurt the end-goal of bonding the couple spiritually through sex. Regardless, misinformation and confusion are both words easily associated with sexual knowledge in this period, no matter the marital status.