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Till Death Do Us Part

Felicity Cloake

Love is an ideal thing, marriage a real thing;
a confusion of the real with the ideal never goes unpunished.

– Goethe


  1. Preparations
    One morning… it occurred to Mrs Sutton to reflect that Anna, at such a period of life, should be otherwise employed… ‘My dear,’ she said, ‘I am very much obliged to you for all this industry. But I’ve been thinking that as you are to be married in February you ought to be preparing your things.’
    ‘My things!’ Anna repeated idly; and then she remembered Mynors’ phrase, on the hill, ‘Can you be ready by that time?’
    ‘Yes,’ said Mrs. Sutton; ‘but possibly you’ve been getting forward with them on the quiet.’
    ‘Tell me,’ said Anna, with an air of interest; ‘I’ve meant to ask you before: is it the bride’s place to provide all the house-linen, and that sort of thing?’
    ‘It was in my day; but those things alter so. The bride took all the house-linen to her husband, and as many clothes for herself as would last a year; that was the rule. We used to stitch everything at home in those days – everything; and we had what we called a “bottom drawer” to store them in. As soon as a girl passed her fifteenth birthday, she began to sew for the “bottom drawer.” But all those things change so, I dare say it’s different now.’ 
    – Arnold Bennett, Anna of the Five Towns

  2.  The Jilting
    ‘The marriage day was fixed, the wedding dresses were bought, the wedding tour was planned out, the wedding guests were invited. The day came, but not the bridegroom. He wrote her a letter—’
    ‘Which she received,’ I struck in, ‘when she was dressing for her marriage? At twenty minutes to nine?’
    ‘At the hour and minute,’ said Herbert, nodding, ‘at which she afterwards stopped all the clocks. What was in it, further than that it most heartlessly broke the marriage off, I can’t tell you, because I don’t know. When she recovered from a bad illness that she had, she laid the whole place to waste, as you have seen it, and she has never since looked upon the light of day.’ 
    – Charles Dickens, Great Expectations

  3. The Service
    The spark of joy kindled in Kitty seemed to have infected every one in the church. It seemed to Levin that the priest and the deacon too wanted to smile just as he did.
    Taking the crowns off their heads the priest read the last prayer and congratulated the young people. Levin looked at Kitty, and he had never before seen her look as she did. She was charming with the new radiance of happiness in her face. Levin longed to say something to her, but he did not know whether it was all over. The priest got him out of his difficulty. He smiled his kindly smile and said gently, ‘Kiss your wife, and you kiss your husband,’ and took the candles out of their hands.
    Levin kissed her smiling lips with timid care, gave her his arm, and with a new strange sense of closeness, walked out of the church. He did not believe, he could not believe, that it was true. It was only when their wondering and timid eyes met that he believed in it, because he felt that they were one. 
    – Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina

  4. Troublesome Relations
    The bride had begged her father to be spared the usual marriage pleasantries. However, a fishmonger, one of their cousins (who had even brought a pair of soles for his wedding present), began to squirt water from his mouth through the keyhole, when old Rouault came up just in time to stop him, and explain to him that the distinguished position of his son-in-law would not allow of such liberties. The cousin all the same did not give in to these reasons readily. In his heart he accused old Rouault of being proud, and he joined four or five other guests in a corner, who having, through mere chance, been several times running served with the worst helps of meat, also were of opinion they had been badly used, and were whispering about their host, and with covered hints hoping he would ruin himself. 
    – Gustave Flaubert, Madame Bovary

  5. The Reception
    There was a commotion at the gate. A group of five hermaphrodites, hearing that there was a wedding in progress, had turned up, and were singing and dancing and demanding money. So shameless were their gestures that the nearby guests were turning away in shock, but Sunil Patwardhan rushed over with his friends to enjoy the fun. Dr Kishen Chand Seth, brandishing his stick, was trying to drive them off, but they were making lewd remarks about both it and him. They would have to be paid to go away. He offered them twenty rupees, and their leader told him that he wouldn’t even service him for that amount. Dr Kishen Chand Seth hopped around in fury, but he could do nothing. They demanded fifty, and they got it.
    – Vikram Seth, A Suitable Boy

  6. Going Away
    The fathers with broad belts under their suits
    And seamy foreheads; mothers loud and fat;
    An uncle shouting smut; and then the perms,
    The nylon gloves and jewellery-substitutes,
    The lemons, mauves, and olive-ochres that

    Marked off the girls unreally from the rest.
        Yes, from cafés
    And banquet-halls up yards, and bunting-dressed
    Coach-party annexes, the wedding-days
    Were coming to an end. All down the line
    Fresh couples climbed aboard: the rest stood round;
    The last confetti and advice were thrown,
    And, as we moved, each face seemed to define
    Just what it saw departing: children frowned
    At something dull; fathers had never known
    Success so huge and wholly farcical;
        The women shared
    The secret like a happy funeral;
    While girls, gripping their handbags tighter, stared
    At a religious wounding… 
    – Philip Larkin, ‘The Whitsun Weddings’

  7. The Wedding Night
    Almost strangers, they stood, strangely together, on a new pinnacle of existence, gleeful that their new status promised to promote them out of their endless youth – Edward and Florence, free at last! … From these new heights they could see clearly, but they could not describe to each other certain contradictory feelings: they separately worried about the moment, sometime soon after dinner, when their new maturity would be tested, when they would lie down together on the four-poster bed and reveal themselves fully to one another. 
    – Ian McEwan, On Chesil Beach

  8. Back to Reality
    Reader, I married him. A quiet wedding we had: he and I, the parson and clerk, were alone present. When we got back from church, I went into the kitchen of the manor house, where Mary was cooking the dinner and John cleaning the knives, and I said – ‘Mary, I have been married to Mr Rochester this morning.’ The housekeeper and her husband were both of that decent phlegmatic order of people, to whom one may at any time safely communicate a remarkable piece of news without incurring the danger of having one’s ears pierced by some shrill ejaculation, and subsequently stunned by a torrent of wordy wonderment. Mary did look up, and she did stare at me: the ladle with which she was basting a pair of chickens roasting at the fire, did for some three minutes hang suspended in air; and for the same space of time John’s knives also had rest from the polishing process: but Mary, bending again over the roast, said only – ‘Have you, Miss? Well, for sure!’ 
    – Charlotte Brontë, Jane Eyre