No flirtation or any shred of feeling can come from a gentleman.
The gentry, finding their coffers depleted, swallowed hard and married American heiresses in order to enrich their great estates.
Winston Churchill’s mother was one of these American “buccaneers.” An upper class girl would have to wait for a formal marriage proposal until she came out (families could, however, have plans in the works before then). After that, she could receive proposals of marriage, but again, love wasn’t on top of the list of husbandly requirements.
Spinsters were regarded with suspicion, and married women were higher up in the social hierarchy, no matter the class or age.
A spinster had to fall on the mercy of her family, living the life of a child forever, asking her sister’s husband or her brother for permission to do anything. No wonder the suffrage movement was built largely of spinsters. Sharon Biggs Waller is the author of A Mad, Wicked Folly, an Edwardian-era novel about a young artist finding her own way during the time of militant suffragettes (Viking/Penguin, Winter 2014).
Flaunt a lover and she might find herself in divorce court and lose everything to her benighted husband, including her children.
Relationships were less stringent for the middle and working classes.After a couple of excursions out (with a chaperone) and calling on the girl at home, the chap was free to declare his feelings to the girl, although he had probably run the idea by her father or guardian first.Woe betide the woman left on the shelf, no matter the class.Once a wife had given birth to the heir and the spare for her husband, she was free to take a lover, perhaps falling in love for the first time.Although taking a lover was accepted, discretion was required.However, for British men, all homosexual acts, including a kiss, were punishable by imprisonment of up to two years, and maybe with hard labor (Labouchere’s amendment of the Criminal Law Amendment act, 1885).