I’m Getting Married in the Morning*

Pressure to MarryOne of the more famous literary opening lines (from Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice) is this:

‘It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.’

And to say the very least, there’s been equal pressure on women to find husbands. Of course, times have changed since Austen wrote those lines. Being single for a long time, even permanently, isn’t looked down on as it once was. And many, many people live together permanently (and happily) without going through a wedding ceremony. They may be legally married under common law, but they choose not to get a marriage license. And of course, there are millions of same-sex marriages, too. So the concept of ‘spouse’ has changed.

Still, that pressure to ‘land a husband’ or wife has been woven into many cultures for an awfully long time. It’s there all through crime fiction, too. And that pressure can add an interesting layer of character development to a story, as well as an interesting statement on the social context of that story.

K.B. Owen’s Concordia Wells faces that sort of pressure in Owen’s historical mystery series. Concordia is a teacher at Hartford (Connecticut) Women’s College during the last years of the 19th Century. At that time, ladies, at least those in the ‘better classes’ only work until they marry. Their primary goal is ‘supposed to be’ to find a husband. On the one hand, Concordia likes the independence her job allows. She doesn’t feel the need to gain her identity through her marital status. On the other hand, she has found someone special. And for her, this presents an interesting dilemma. Should she marry (which means giving up her career) or should she remain single (which means going against the social pressure, and her own attachment)? I hear you, fans of Kerry Greenwood’s Dorothy ‘Dot’ Williams!

The search for a spouse is an important factor in Brian Stoddart’s A Madras Miasma, which is set in 1920, during the last decades of the British Raj. Virginia Campbell and Jane Carstairs are young English women who are spending some time in Madras. They and other young women like them are often referred to as ‘the fishing fleet’ because of their purpose for being in Madras. They’re no longer in their early twenties, and the proverbial clock is ticking. So they’re looking to meet as many well-placed, eligible, young men as possible, in hopes of finding a husband. They attend every party, sailing trip, picnic and other social event they can. One night, after one such event, Jane is murdered and her body left in Buckingham Canal. Superintendent Christian Le Fanu and his assistant, Sergeant Muhammad Habibullah, take charge of the investigation. As they trace the victim’s last days and hours, they (and readers) get a sense of ‘the marriage marketplace’ in the Madras of that time.

There’s an interesting discussion of the pressure to find a spouse in Agatha Christie’s Evil Under the Sun. Rosamund Darnley is a very successful clothing designer whose creations are well regarded (and upmarket). She takes a holiday at the Jolly Roger Hotel on Leathercombe Bay, only to meet up unexpectedly with an old friend, Captain Kenneth Marshall. He’s there with his wife, actress Arlena Stuart, and his daughter, Linda. Rosamund is very proud of her career and her talent. And yet, as she tells Poirot,

‘…all the same, I’m nothing but a wretched old maid!’

Poirot is of the opinion that
‘To marry and have children, that is the common lot of women.’

He doesn’t disapprove of women having careers, nor does he think less of Rosamund because she is in business. In fact, he quite admires her. That doesn’t, of course, stop him considering her a suspect when Arlena Marshall is murdered.

In Rex Stout’s Champagne For One, Archie Goodwin agrees to stand in for a friend at a dinner party hosted by society leader Louise Robilotti. The dinner dance is an annual event with a not-very-well-hidden agenda. Mrs. Roilotti is a patron of Grantham House, a home for unwed mothers. The idea of the dinner dance is to introduce a few of these young women to some of the eligible bachelors in the ‘better circles,’ and perhaps make a match or two. On this night, though, no-one’s thinking much about matchmaking after one of the guests, Faith Usher, suddenly dies. At first it’s put down to suicide, since she had poison with her and had threatened to kill herself. But Goodwin isn’t sure at all that it is suicide. So, with his boss Nero Wolfe’s support, Goodwin starts to ask questions. It turns out that he was absolutely right: Faith Usher was murdered.

Of course, there are plenty of people who don’t feel an undue amount of pressure to marry. Even in books written during and about times past, there are characters like that. Kerry Greenwood’s Phryne Fisher, for instance, feels no burning desire to marry, although she does have several relationships. In fact, that’s part of what makes her daring for her time.

Fans of Andrea Camilleri’s Inspector Salvo Montalbano will know that he and his lover Livia have gone back and forth about marriage more than once. They do care deeply about each other, and in The Snack Thief, readers even get a glimpse of what they might be like as parents. In that novel, Montalbano and his team investigate the murder of a retired executive, which turns out to be connected to another case, the death of a Tunisian sailor who was on board an Italian fishing boat when he was killed. In the course of the story, Montalbano and Livia have the temporary care of a young boy whose mother has disappeared. It’s interesting to see this side of both of them. And yet, they don’t really feel a lot of social pressure to get married, and a lot of the time, they feel no great compulsion to do so.

That’s also true of Luiz Alfredo Garcia-Roza’s Inspector Espinosa. He lives and works in Rio de Janeiro, where he’s well settled in. He’s in a relationship with Irene, a graphics designer who lives and works in São Paulo. Neither is what you’d call very young. But neither really feels the pressure to marry and ‘settle down.’ They do care about each other, but there’s no real compulsion to marry.

It’s interesting to see how that social pressure has changed and not changed over time. I think that’s true in real life, and it’s true in crime fiction, too.



*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe’s Get Me to the Church on Time.


Filed under Agatha Christie, Andrea Camilleri, Brian Stoddart, Jane Austen, K.B. Owen, Kerry Greenwood, Luiz Alfredo Garcia-Roza, Rex Stout

20 responses to “I’m Getting Married in the Morning*

  1. I love that song, Margot, and I love Stanley Holloway’s performance in My Fair Lady. He is my favorite actor / performer in that movie.

    I have got to read more of the Inspector Salvo Montalbano series and the Inspector Espinosa series.

    • Oh, didn’t Holloway give a great performance in that film, Tracy? Just fantastic. And the Salvo Montalbano series is one of my top series; I always enjoy recommending those novels. The Espinosa novels are very well-written, too.

  2. In Dorothy L Sayers Strong Poison we find that Harriet Vane defied convention to live with her lover. It’s a good murder story, and I like the start of the relationship with Lord Peter, but it’s also fascinating to read the various views on marriage and living in sin in 1930, and in particular Harriet’s unexpected response when her lover does ask her to marry him.

  3. Really enjoyed this post Margot – not least I was at a great wedding on Saturday 🙂

  4. Margot: Anthony Bidulka’s sleuth, Russell Quant, is a gay man in Saskatoon. He would love a permanent relationship but it never works out in the series. He gets engaged at one point but the relationship ends before they get married.

    • You’re right about Russell, Bill. He would love to have a permanent relationship, and he does get involved. As you say, though, it doesn’t happen. If he ever comes back from hiatus, it’s be nice to see him with someone – a permanent someone. I that’d be good for him.

  5. Margot, I like that opening line of “Pride and Prejudice,” a book I started out reading a couple of years ago and stopped midway. The book has some of the most memorable characters in the history of literary fiction.

    • I agree, Prashant. Austen really did create some memorable characters and a really interesting story, didn’t she? And that opening line is, in my opinion, very well done.

  6. Great post, Margot. Are you tempted to write about married couples — happy or otherwise — in crime fiction next?

    • Thanks, Angela. And there’s no doubt that crime-fictional married couples offer a rich source of good material for a blog post. There are some great fictional couples who have a strong relationship. And there are others who serve as a good explanation for why so many real-life murders are committed by spouses…

  7. Kathy D.

    And the topics just keep coming. Amazing.
    Yes, agreed about Phrynne Fisher. The TV series which is great (available at couchtuner) shows a very liberated woman detective from the 1920s, smart, brave, feisty, logical, all good traits. I’d say that Kerry Greenwood’s other protagonist, Corinna Chapman, is also not one striving for marriage.
    V.I. Warshawski, briefly married, is also very independent, yet has romantic relationships. I cannot see marriage in her future. She does what she wants when she wants to and comes home to her dogs and neighbor.
    Kinsey Millhone also seems to have no interest in marriage.
    Now, Salvo Montalbano, what a character. He’s been going through a middle-age crisis, but in A Beam of Light, seems to have decided to be loyal to Lydia. But marriage? That may not happen.
    And there’s the disheveled genius, Commissaire Adamsberg, who can’t even hold onto a relationship, more or less marriage. Neither could Harry Hole. And police officer, Anne Fekete, in Finland doesn’t seem to care about this issue.
    Yet there are the happily married Irene Huss and Guido Brunetti. They are police detectives, not private eyes.
    Are there any detectives who live together happily unmarried or gay characters who live together where one is a detective, aside from Russell Quant.

    • Thanks for the kind words, Kathy. And thanks very much for your ideas, too. I don’t know if Salvo Montalbano is ever going to get married; most of the time, though, I don’t think he has any particular compulsion to do so. And as you say, there are plenty of other sleuths, too, who’ve had relationships (or have them now) but choose not to marry. It’s an interesting phenomenon. You ask an interesting question about sleuths who live with parents, too. For a few books in the series, Martin Edwards’ Hannah Scarlett lives with her partner Marc Amos. And there are other examples, too. As to gay sleuths with partners, Mark Richard Zubro has written a couple of series featuring gay sleuths who have partners. Val McDermid’s Lindsay Gordon has a partner for a few novels in that series, too. And there are others. You’ve brought up an interesting topic.

  8. Kathy D.

    Also, what about Jayne Keeney, Australian ex-pat detecting in Thailand. She’s informally living with her partner-in-crime and while she is the main investigator, he helps. I haven’t heard marriage mentioned.

    • No, you’re quite right, Kathy. As you say, she and Rajiv Patel are partners, both in business and in life. But I don’t know how eager for marriage either one is. Folks, for those who haven’t ‘met’ Jayne Keeney,’ she is the creation of Angela Savage. I highly recommend that series.

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