14 February 2011

An Ordinary Day In: The Life of a Victorian Chaperone

By Jennifer Linforth

You know that silly game of placing 'in bed' at the end of any fortune cookie fortune to completely alter its meaning? My husband and I have a game similar to that in terms of our four year old daughter. We call it 'things we don't want to hear on prom night.' Such as when she runs downstairs and says, "I can't get my panties off" or "I'm a naked baby!" or "You're not doing it right" or "May I have it now, please?"

You get the picture....

In imaging my daughter out on prom night I truly wish for Victorian times and the era of the chaperone. These women were usually Aunts, older married or widowed women and were tasked with supervising the innocence of the unwed Victorian lady. Their daily life involved overseeing all their charges did—and made sure no improper conduct occurred during courtship.

Daily the Victorian chaperone had to make sure etiquette was carried out to the utmost degree. They remained with their charges, for a woman was never to go anywhere with a gentleman especially without her mother’s permission and never late at night.

The chaperone may have taught her charge how to flirt with her fan, for that behavior was social acceptable to a degree. Flirting otherwise was not.

A single woman never walked alone. Her chaperone was with her. If she was at a point in courtship where she could walk out with a gentleman--a chaperone saw to it they walked apart and did not have any physical conduct. A gentleman could assist a lady over rough patches of ground but that contact was the only he was truly allowed with a woman not his fiancée.

The chaperone saw to it a proper woman did not ride alone in a closed carriage with a gentleman not her relative. She also saw that she did not receive a man at home if she was alone. The chaperone had to be present and if not her, then another family member.

I certainly think in 2011 society that a chaperone system would meet with wild protest. But what about the Victorian era? Do you think the youth protested it at all in some manner or was it so acceptable they just went with the flow?

Jennifer Linforth expands the classics by continuing The Phantom of the Opera. MADRIGAL and ABENDLIED are available now. Look for future books based on the classics, in addition to her unique historical romances. "Ms. Linforth's prose is phenomenally beautiful and hauntingly breathtaking." ~ Coffee Time Romance


Deb said...

What an interesting essay! Still, I suspect young women who were eager to meet the man of their choice would devise ways of giving their chaperone the slip. Despite the best chaperonage available, many Victorian women managed to get themselves "in trouble." I read somewhere that one-third of all births in London in the 1800s were illegitimate (although, obviously, that figure would be much less for wealthy families who employed chaperones).

librarypat said...

I am certain Victorian young adults complained and tried to get both parents and chaperones to bend the rules just a little bit. In a way it took the pressure off the couple, especially the woman.
From a parents point of view, having a chaperone would make life so much easier.
There are still cultures that have chaperones today. In 1968 to 1971, I lived and worked in such a place. Having a chaperone proved you weren't a loose woman. They had the 'men will be men" attitude and expected them to try to get away with whatever they could.