A Victorian Story of a Marriage, a Trial, and a Self-Made Woman
by Chloe Schama
Walker & Company
$24.00 List Price
Theresa Longworth, a middle-class English girl fresh from a convent school, met William Charles Yelverton, an Anglo-Irish aristocrat, on a boat crossing the English Channel in 1852. She was nineteen, and he was a decade older. They talked all night on the open deck and then began a correspondence lasting five years, during which time Longworth served as a nurse in the Crimea. Her letters, which the whole world would soon be invited to read, were not the sort that usually dripped from the quills of Victorian women: "I have made up my mind to turn savage," she told Yelverton, "I am weary of civilisation." In another letter, she explained that "conventionality is not the question between us. . . . My whole life, you know, has been a protest against it, and in my relations with you it has never been brought to bear or wished for."
In Wild Romance, Chloë Schama takes these statements with a pinch of salt. Because Longworth wed Yelverton twice in 1857, the first time in an irregular service in Edinburgh and the second in a Catholic church in Killowen, Ireland, and then fought to have her married status recognized, Schama argues that she secretly craved a "relatively subservient position." But I see no reason to put out Longworth's fire: For much of her life she did "turn savage," and conventionality eluded her at every turn.
The newlyweds honeymooned in Scotland and later traveled to the Continent. Longworth, greatly enjoying her "wild romance," didn't smell a rat when Yelverton asked her to keep their union secret. The following year, he returned to Edinburgh and got married