What was sex and love really like in nineteenth-century Europe and America, when Western civilization was a veritable White Imperium? The prevailing view in liberal-feminoid academia, trickling down to the masses, is that it was a straight-laced (as in corsets), tight-sphinctred age of sexual repression, a notion that got embedded in the very word “Victorian”. By contrast, white people in quest of a regenerate lifestyle sometimes hark back to this past as a time when decency and virtue prevailed. Let’s take a closer look at what was really going on, using information derived from literary works written during that time, rather than latter-day histories with their inevitable bias.
As in all cultures, every area of life was modeled by an ideal: a vivid set of imagery, principles, and belief shared by all, or at least by an effective quorum of the populace. The ideal governs behavior in that all strive for it, but its actual attainment is limited to a few ~ assuming that the ideal is within the range of human attainment at all. If it is, then the Elect who embody it become a living model for the rest of the people ~ esteemed and imitated by the true at heart, envied and resented by the ignoble.
In the nineteenth-century imperium, marriage and the family were enshrined as the highest ideal of eros. The father was the patriarch, on a scale approaching that of the Roman pater familias. The mother was ideally a woman of exquisite charm and beauty, who had chosen her husband from a field of ardent suitors. The man who had won out by his high character, virtuous life, and worldly accomplishments would reap the erotic reward from his virgin bride. When they became a family, the woman would divide her orgone (erotic energy) between her husband and the large quantum she sublimated into raising her children. There were of course lots more children than in families today, so being a wife and mother was always a full-time job. The demands inevitably caused her attractiveness and vitality to fade as she aged, but this was acceptable because marriage was for life, and hence she would never find herself back in the “dating market” like most postmodern women.
The biggest complication in the expansive realm of non-ideal marriages was the tendency for financial considerations to outweigh love and the other criteria of a prospective mate’s merit. This was especially compelling for women, since their worldy survival and stations in life were totally dependent on their husbands. There were only a very few socially practicable niches in which women could make a respectable livelihood on their own, and most who succeeded in them were of two types: (1) women with a strong-willed drive sufficient to defy convention, and (2) women who were unsuitable for marriage for whatever reasons; these were called “old maids”, at whatever age it became clear that this was their destiny (e.g. Louisa May Alcott).
The tragedy in Wuthering Heights (Emily Brontë) pivots on a woman bonded in mutual love with a man of perfectly matched temperament, but marrying him is unthinkable to her because of his lack of wealth and social status. An opposite kind of tragedy befalls Anna Karenina (Leo Tolstoy): she’s in a stable marriage with children at the high end of society, but it falls to pieces when for the first time in her life she experiences full-blown romantic love with another man. The other side of the scale comes into play in The Woman in White (Wilkie Collins), when a petty nobleman marries a woman for her money, and wreaks a horrible fate upon her to get control of it. The hero of the tale had fallen in love with the lady at first sight, but was rebuffed by her family because of (you guessed it) his lack of wealth and status.
The happy ending of The Woman in White presents a very idealized cameo of marriage and family, glossing over all the gritty details. By contrast, Little Women (Alcott) gives us a whole volume packed with the challenges, heartbreaks, and triumphs of the institution at its best in that era. The novel is what would today be labeled a “juvenile”, targeting an audience of young people, especially girls ~ so the author, a true mistress of her craft, intentionally gave it a layer of gloss, but it’s thin enough for us to surmise what was going on beneath the surface. And in fact it was based on Louisa’s real-life family, adding greatly to its value as a semi-historical document.
The father and mother of the March family fulfill their roles as highest standard-bearers of the Elect. Mr. March is away as a Union chaplain in the Civil War for almost the entire first half of the book, so his wife bears the double burden, ably assisted by the eldest two of the four girls. The Marches, like the Alcotts, were poor, so we’re treated to realistic scenes and dialogues demonstrating how this becomes a virtue for people of inner nobility. It could have served as a primer for the venal titular gentry of the above-mentioned works! We learn that the Marches (and thereby many real families like them) drew upon their Christian religion to aid them in their daily struggles and inspire them to steadfastness in the path of virtue and integrity. Since early childhood the girls have periodically play-acted Pilgrim’s Progress (John Bunyan), so the imagery and nomenclature of Christian’s trip through the snares of life to the Celestial City becomes a living part of their own lives. Faced with a very lean Christmas, the mother gives each of the girls a surprise gift of a “little book” which warms and inspires them as they read passages daily. The clear inference is that this was a specially-bound edition of the Gospels.
The interesting thing is that the Alcotts were not Christians but Transcendentalists ~ in fact they were in the personal circle of friends of Ralph Waldo Emerson. Evidently being raised with enlightened spiritual views gave Louisa a tolerant and benevolent perspective on the kind of religion which the majority of ordinary people depend on for the welfare of their souls and guidance of their lives. It also explains why the Christianity of the Marches was so flexible and non-dogmatic.
The magnum corpus of the fiction of the white imperium displays a world in which chastity and fidelity were indeed the ruling virtues of eros, whether in their fulfillment (as in Little Women), in their breach, or in dramatized accounts of the struggle to live the ideal, with all its pitfalls and redemptions. We’re also shown lucidly that this all took place in a steadfast nexus of male dominion, upheld by economic, legal, cultural, and religious bastions. The collapse of this mighty firmament in the following century was like a mountain range falling into the sea. How could it have happened? I’m attempting to get to the roots of this and other world-historic issues in Eroskrieg.