Marrying for Money

Max O'Rell

Max O’Rell

Snippets 114. One of my favourite ‘forgotten’ authors is Max O’Rell, a travel writer whose books are funny and readable, despite now all being well over 100 years old. His 1889 book, Jonathan and his Continent, tackled the subject of American life and customs. The following quote illustrates his distaste at what he viewed as the American habit of young women marrying very old men for money.

That passion for rich marriages, which burns in the heart of so many young American women, often leads to disastrous results.

If one may trust one’s eyes, American law allows young girls to marry their grandfathers, or at least the contemporaries of those worthies.

It is not rare, I may say it is quite common, to see girls of eighteen and twenty married to men of seventy and over.

As a Frenchman, I know it scarcely becomes me to throw the first stone at my neighbour for this: France is admittedly a country where mariages de convenance are common. Still, I must say the difference is enormous. In France, it is the parents who are to blame, and not the girls. They try to secure for their daughters what they are pleased to call a position; whilst, in America, it is the young girl herself who chooses her husband: she alone is responsible for this crime against Cupid’s laws…

The young American, indulged and petted by her father, counts that an old husband will be more likely to put up with her caprices, and gratify all her whims, than a young man whose fortune was not made. “A young husband,” she says to herself, “is all very fine; but there is my father, who does just what I please; I am pretty, and have hosts of men to tell me so every day; I am free to go where I like and receive whom I like; I spend as much as I like: shall I exchange all this for a husband, who will hamper me with a household and perhaps a large family; who will talk of stocks, and perhaps preach economy; who will bore me with the prices of grain or cotton-seed oil, and give me the headache with listening to his politics and heaven knows what? No, no; I will take a husband who will think of nothing but satisfying my caprices.” Perhaps she adds, in her wisdom: “A man of seventy or eighty I shall not have to put up with very long.”

An American told me that he once went a long journey in the same railway carriage with an infirm, hoary old man of eighty, who was accompanied by a girl of scarce more than twenty. This young woman was strikingly beautiful. My American friend admitted to me that the sight of her lovely face had the effect of making him fall quite in love with her before their five days’ journey was over. He did not have an opportunity of conversing with her; but on arriving at their destination, he resolved to put up at the same hotel as the old man, so as to perhaps have a chance of making more ample acquaintance with his fair charge. To find out the name of the young girl and her venerable grandfather, he waited to sign his name in the hotel register until the patriarch had inscribed his own. Imagine his feelings when he read:

“Mr. X. and wife.”

Here is a joke that I culled from a Washington paper. Is it a joke?

“A bachelor lately advertised for a wife. A typographical error changed his age from 37 to 87; but it made no difference, for he received over 250 applications, from ladies ranging in age from 16 to 60, and all promising love and devotion to the rest of his existence.”

You can read an article about another of Max O’Rell’s books here: Journals 5 – A Frenchman in America.  The link will take you to the first part of the article.  Others can be found by scrolling from one article to the next using the arrows, or can be easily accessed from the contents page (link under the banner above).


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