Study Guide

The Moonstone Marriage

By Wilkie Collins

Marriage

I agree with the late William Cobbett about picking a wife. See that she chews her food well, and sets her foot down firmly on the ground when she walks, and you're all right. (1.1.2.6)

Gabriel Betteredge has a very unromantic philosophy about marriage – love has nothing to do with it at all.

Selina, as a single woman, made me pay so much a week for her board and services. Selina, being my wife, couldn't charge for her board, and would have to give me her services for nothing. That was the point of view I looked at it from. Economy—with a dash of love. (1.1.2.6)

Betteredge puts his pragmatic philosophy about marriage into practice when he decides to marry the woman he paid to keep house for him: it would save him money. It was the economical thing to do.

We were not a happy couple, and not a miserable couple. We were six of one and half-a-dozen of the other. How it was I don't understand, but we always seemed to be getting, with the best motives, in one another's way. When I wanted to go upstairs, there was my wife coming down; or when my wife wanted to go down, there was I coming up. That is married life, according to my experience of it. (1.1.2.10)

Betteredge's vision of married life is far from nostalgic – he thinks that husbands and wives are always in each other's way. But his description isn't sad or tragic; it's funny.

'The late Mrs Betteredge possessed a good many defects, sir,' says I. 'One of them (if you will pardon my mentioning it) was never keeping to the matter in hand. She was more like a fly than a woman: she couldn't settle on anything.' (1.1.5.11)

Whenever Betteredge wants to make a point about women in general, or whenever he needs a comparison, he brings up his late wife as a point of reference.

'In the time of the late Mrs Betteredge,' I said, 'I felt pretty often inclined to try your philosophy, Mr Franklin. But the law insists on your smoking your cigar, sir, when you have once chosen it.' (1.1.22.15)

Again, Betteredge brings up his wife to make a point about women in general. The metaphor he and Franklin Blake are using to describe women is rather sexist, but kind of funny at the same time: they compare women to cigars. If you don't like the cigar, you throw it away and try another. But, as Betteredge points out, the marriage laws require a man to "smok[e his] cigar" after he's chosen it (i.e., after he's chosen a wife).

'Do you know many wives, my dear Rachel, who respect and admire their husbands? And yet they and their husbands get on very well. How many brides go to the altar with hearts that would bear inspection by the men who take them there? And yet it doesn't end unhappily—somehow or other the nuptial establishment jogs on.' (2.1.5.53)

Godfrey wants to persuade Rachel that it's okay to marry him without loving him. It's enough if you respect the person you marry – love isn't really necessary. After all, he argues, people do it all the time. And the institution of marriage continues! It's not a very romantic view, but it might be a true one for the time.

'The truth is, that women try marriage as a Refuge, far more numerously than they are willing to admit; and, what is more, they find that marriage has justified their confidence in it.' (2.1.5.53)

Godfrey tells Rachel that lots of women get married to escape romantic disappointment. Like if you found out that your crush had been arrested for shoplifting, so to hide your disappointment (and embarrassment), you immediately agree to go out with someone you don't even really like. That kind of thing happens all the time, Godfrey says.

'When my mother was a girl, Rachel (it is no secret in the family), she had loved as you love—she had given her heart to a man who was unworthy of her. She married my father, respecting him, admiring him, but nothing more. Your own eyes have seen the result. Is there no encouragement in it for you and for me?' (2.1.5.61)

Even Godfrey's mother did it! She found out that her girlhood crush was "unworthy of her" and so, in the first pangs of disappointment, she agreed to marry Mr. Ablewhite. His family wasn't as rich as hers was, but hey. Better get married than sit at home crying over her crush. And after all, Godfrey argues, his parents are happy enough. According to this passage, love is totally unnecessary to a happy marriage.

'In plain English, it's your sovereign will and pleasure, Miss Verinder, to jilt my son?' (2.1.8.53)

A 'jilt' is an old-fashioned word for someone who breaks up a romantic relationship for no good reason. It was pretty insulting to call a woman a 'jilt.' It would be like calling someone a 'tease' nowadays.

'I wasn't good enough for the Herncastles, when I married. And, now it comes to the pinch, my son isn't good enough for you. I suspected it, all along. You have got the Herncastle blood in you, my young lady! I suspected it all along.' (2.1.8.61)

Mr. Ablewhite thinks that Rachel doesn't want to marry Godfrey because she's too proud to marry a family that isn't as aristocratic as her own. Her mother's family, the Herncastles, is a very old, wealthy family. And back when Mr. Ablewhite married his wife (Rachel's mother's sister), the Herncastle family didn't really approve of the match. Mr. Ablewhite apparently never really got over his insecurity about the relative social level of the Herncastles and the Ablewhites, because now he suspects that Rachel won't marry Godfrey for the same reason.