Novel Writing, Love & Marriage

I am revising my historical fiction novel-in-progress, Lovebirds & Tin Gods, and it has me contemplating love and marriage on this Valentine’s Day. I knew when I started the book that romantic love would be a part of the story. The main character is a young woman who wishes to delay marriage and this sets the plot in motion when she convinces her parents to let her accompany her older brother to India.

And there is the love story of Lady Mary Curzon, the real historic Vicereine of India who is a part of the story. Her husband Lord George Curzon was appointed Viceroy of India and when they arrived there in 1898 she hoped George would have more time for her, and their marriage. She had become desperately lonely in the early years of their marriage in London, as George worked constantly and she had few friends. 

Lady Curzon with George Curzon's family at Kedleston Hall
Lady Curzon (seated front with Lord Curzon) with George's family at Kedleston Hall, England

What I didn’t anticipate when I started the book was the extent to which other types of love would find their way into the story.  There is the complex love between parents and their adult children who wish to forge their own path (not so easy to do in 1898). There is the love and loss of one’s country as well. Lady Mary Curzon had to give up her American citizenship when she married George Curzon in 1895. She leaves America and a beloved family behind; I think it saddened her for the rest of her life.

Returning to romantic love, I was recently in India and attended the wedding reception of a sophisticated thirty-something couple. Although the wedding followed many traditions, the marriage wasn’t “arranged” in the traditional sense.  They had met through friends, fallen in love and decided to marry. In India, they call this a “love marriage”. 

Many modern young people are now doing it, but more still prefer the arranged option. In that case “Aunties” (usually a family friend) help find appropriate matches, typically someone with similar education and from the same religion and social class or caste.

Susan Heinrich at a wedding in Jaipur India

Potential couples meet and get to know each other. It’s dating, abbreviated. If everyone agrees it’s a match and an astrologer selects an auspicious date. (Yes, this is standard practice. Don’t mess with the astrologer.) These couples aren’t typically yet “in love”; they believe that love will grow in time.

An Indian friend explained it to me this way: In the west, we tend to marry when romantic love is at its greatest intensity. In an arranged marriage you start at the beginning and build. It’s an interesting difference to ponder. It is true divorce rates used to be very low in India, in large part because divorce carried an enormous social stigma. But that is changing and divorce is becoming more acceptable and more common.

Sadly, many girls in India are denied to right to choose when and whom to marry. The minimum legal age for marriage is 18, but 27% of girls marry before that and 7% before age 15, according to the nonprofit, Girls Not Brides. Culture, gender, and poverty all contribute to this. Girls leave home once married to join their husband’s family where they are expected to take care of his parents. This reality influences the decision of parents with few resources; knowing the girls will leave, they educate the boys. Dowries (although illegal) are still commonly paid and younger girls usually command smaller ones. 

Susan Heinrich holds hands with two women in Delhi India

Sadly, many girls in India are denied to right to choose when and whom to marry. The minimum legal age for marriage is 18, but 27% of girls marry before that and 7% before age 15, according to the nonprofit, Girls Not Brides

Culture, gender, and poverty all contribute to this. Girls leave home once married to join their husband’s family where they are expected to take care of his parents. This reality influences the decision of parents with few resources; knowing the girls will leave, they educate the boys. Dowries (although illegal) are still commonly paid and younger girls usually command smaller ones. 

But there’s hope: rates of childhood marriage are dropping. In India’s Rajasthan region, the “Dignity of the Girl Child” program is successfully educating villagers about girls’ rights. The nonprofit Urmul perform puppet shows to demonstrate the harmful effects of childhood marriage. After the show, the entire village is asked to take an oath to prevent it and a banner is hung which they all sign hangs as a reminder. Entire villages are now free of childhood marriage, where it was prevalent until recently. Hooray. 

That is a Valentine’s Day dream worth dreaming: beautiful Indian weddings where only grown-woman brides stand next to grooms they have agreed to marry.

I had the chance to visit Kedleston Hall as part of my research for my novel . You can read more about that in: A Visit to Kedleston Hall. 

Rajasthani women in colourful saris on a train platform in Rajasthan

India Travel

If this story has you dreaming of travel, I’ve written several articles about India at my travel website for midlife women: Midlife Globetrotter:

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