In today’s society it is not always surprising to see an expectant mother at the altar, but I would have thought it would be practically unheard of during Jane Austen’s time. With the strict rules in regard to courtship, fornication, and marriage it would seem that expecting a child outside of marriage would not have been very common. In Pride and Prejudice, we do see Lydia run off with Mr. Wickham, and we can assume they consumate their marriage before their marriage, but there is no indication that Lydia is expecting a child. It was scandal enough for Lydia to run away with him.

I decided to do a little research about the prevalence of pre-maritial sex and the conception of children, and I was extremely surprised about what I found. While the majority of the population seemed to follow the rules of propriety, many did not. In the late 1700s, more than one third of girls was pregnant when she was married. In some areas of England, 50% of brides were pregnant. As you can probably imagine, this was a huge disappointment and scandal for the brides family. If a woman was pregnant and did not end up marrying right away, she was considered a social outcast. Sadly, many single women abandoned their children or worse.

For more information click here. This article also has some very interesting information about marriage and courtship during the time that is not necessarily scandalous but extremely interesting.

 

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