James Covert, A Victorian Marriage: Mandell and Louise Creighton, London: Hambledon and London, 2001. Pp. 412 + xvi. Illus. ISBN 1 85285 250 7. £19.95
Mandell Creighton was a leading late nineteenth-century academic historian, who also attained preference in the ecclesiastical field, dying in his fifties as Bishop of London (and having had his name mentioned for the Primacy). His wife Louise (née von Glehn) was a scholar in her own right, whose biography of her husband was widely praised. She was also indefatigably active in a variety of good causes, from the Mothers’ Union and Girls’ Friendly Society type of church-related organisation which might seem befitting work for a clergyman’s wife, to the Association for the Education of Women in Oxford, the National Union of Women Workers and rescue work with prostitutes.
This well-written and very readable study delineates an unusual Victorian marriage and adds to our understanding of the complexity of marital relationships and indeed of possibilities for individuals during that era. If, particularly as her husband was appointed to positions requiring greater administrative responsibility, Louise was apt to complain of the practical support work expected of her, there was never any sense that Mandell Creighton wanted a mere helpmeet. Louise’s domestic undertakings, even given the support of a devoted staff, are exhausting to read about. She educated her own children at home, although the boys went to public school when they reached the age of twelve. While bringing up a young family she nonetheless managed to write several history primers, a task she found agreeable and rewarding. She deplored the encroachments on opportunities for scholarship that episcopal wifehood brought – conscientiously giving any spare time to her good causes.
The account of Mandell Creighton illuminates the still under-researched area of Victorian masculinity. Unlike Louisa, whose maternal attitude was anxious and dutiful, he indulged in boisterous romps with his children (and indeed the children of others). This did not affect his paternal moral authority: his eldest son commented that his chief characteristic had been a ‘combination of sympathy and sternness which made us regard him both as our delightful playfellow and companion, and also as our most exacting judge’ (p. 265). He encouraged his wife as a scholar and in her pursuit of various causes. In her widowhood, when she had come round to a belief in the need for women to have the vote (thus leading to a breach with her old friend Mary [Mrs Humphry] Ward, née Arnold), she was concerned lest people might think that it had been her husband’s influence which had influenced her previous anti-suffrage stance and that ‘his death [had] left me free to declare my own opinion’. However, he had ‘always left me absolutely free to form and express my own opinions’, and he had never been ‘strongly opposed to female suffrage’ (pp. 302-3). His record in connection with support for the higher education of women, as well as his attitude towards his wife’s extra-domestic activities, indicates his sympathy for the female aspirations of the day.
Their conjugal relationship thoroughly undermines clichéd stereotypes of the Victorian marriage, in particular among the clergy. Visitors to the household (the undergraduate pupils whom Mandell Creighton took in for summer reading, and relatives) reported not only heated quarrels between the couple but also witnessing with considerable embarrassment their public (or at least insufficiently private) demonstrations of affection, which, at least in their earlier days, extended to him having her ‘on his knee in our study or library, and they would fondle and kiss each other’ (p. 152). (For many years they actually shared a study.) Even in later life Louise was distressed when the demands of episcopal duty meant that they were frequently separated for greater and lesser periods, regretting even overnight absences on diocesan visitation.
The one possible quibble is that after the dense and rich chapters covering their early life and upbringing, courtship and marriage, as these were inflected by the development of Mandell Creighton’s career, Louise Creighton’s ‘thirty-five years of active and productive life’ (p. 295) following her husband’s death are passed over relatively briefly. Besides her husband’s biography, and editions of his lectures, sermons and essays, she produced several articles and thirteen books, as well as continuing her career in social activism, which included social purity (she was appointed to the Royal Commission on Venereal Diseases, 1913-1916), missionary work, and a variety of women’s causes, including a moderate though nevertheless forcefully-held position on women’s ministry within the church. However, Covert has already published an edition of Louise’s Memoir of a Victorian Woman, and as this is a portrait of a marriage, rather than two individuals, this relative omission is understandable.
Lesley A. Hall
Wellcome Library for the History and Understanding of Medicine, London