Was marrying cousins acceptable? In several works I teach from the Victorian Era, first cousins fell in love and married each other.  Was this socially acceptable or should we look at these characters differently?

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Marrying cousins is not just limited to the past.  Remember the rock'n'roll star Jerry Lee Lewis (who is still alive) who married his 13 year old cousin? In some of the Appalachian states, this marriage of cousins goes on today.  In a very rural county of my state, for instance, one man married his cousin.  When told it is illegal to marry his first cousin, he was shocked!  (No, the theme from Deliverance was not played at his wedding)

On a more serious note, Wuthering Heights provides us with examples of this practice.  Since families were often very isolated as in Bronte's novel, there was little occasion to meet people outside of one's extended family.

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I agree with the previous posts - this was socially acceptable, as people had no understanding of genetics and consequently no reason to think the practice was not a good idea. In fact, in some ancient societies royal siblings sometimes married to keep the bloodlines pure.

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Post #4 is correct: the previous posts are, indeed, right on target. I might add that several famous people, including author Edgar Allan Poe, married their first cousins (his was Virginia Clemm, often cited to be the love of his life).  There are still, now, many states that allow first cousins to marry -- and a handful that allow first cousins to marry under certain circumstances.  See the following link for more information:

http://www.ncsl.org/issues-research/human-services/state-laws-regarding-marriages-between-first-cousi.aspx

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The previous posts are right on target. Marrying cousins, even first cousins, was a way of keeping money and property in the family, and it was practiced at all levels of society. Only much later when negative genetic patterns were discovered was the practice frowned upon.

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Cousins did marry.  Usually the reason was to keep the money in the family.  It was not until the latter part of the 19th century that the practice came under suspicion.  They had very little understanding of genetics before.  I found some interesting articles on the subject. 

Here is one on the evolution of cousin marriage in Victorian England: http://jfh.sagepub.com/content/11/3/285.abstract  

Here are some more rules about Victorian Courtship. http://www.clas.ufl.edu/users/agunn/teaching/enl3251/vf/pres/ziegenfuss.htm

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Marriage among cousins was a hallmark of preindustrial societies in which elites placed a premium on keeping property within their families, but began to decline in the nineteenth in the United States, where several states in the United States had banned the practice before the Civil War. (It remains legal in many states) Whether these laws reflected contemporary social mores or not is another question. In Victorian England, in any case, it seems to have remained common among the wealthy middle classes, where families tended to be so tightly-knit, and obsessions with regulating young people's sexuality was so intense, that young people often had few chances to form intimate relationships with anyone other than their cousins. So in short, I don't think the characters you reference would have violated any taboo in marrying their cousins. I have listed two links below that address this issue:

 http://books.google.com/books?id=vNEv5tw-fjsC&pg=PA137&lpg=PA137&dq=marrying+cousins+victorian+england&source=bl&ots=9Lh-7BULyI&sig=Sbav_aKOu1yA76gI8tqUV_-cenI&hl=en&sa=X&ei=NdqrT6vlOoy3twfB_KGiAg&ved=0CGkQ6AEwAw#v=onepage&q=marrying%20cousins%20victorian%20england&f=false

http://www.plosbiology.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pbio.0060320

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