Advice About Righting the Wrong Marriage Proposal

For many years Isabella had an advice column in a popular Christian magazine. She used the column to answer readers’ concerns—from a Christian perspective—on a variety of topics.

In 1897 she received a surprising letter from a young woman who regretted turning down a marriage proposal.

Here is the letter:

Suppose a gentleman had proposed marriage to a lady by letter, although he lived in the same town with her, and she, vexed at this, had simply returned the letter without other reply. Yet suppose that she loved the man, and believed him in every way worthy. What could she do to right matters?

Illustration of letter envelopes with wax seals on the flaps and hand-written "For You" on the front of one, against a background of a quill feather pen and small blue flowers.

Here is Isabella’s reply:

Yours is an extremely difficult question to answer. If I were the gentleman, it would take a good deal to “right matters.”

I am simply amazed at the number of young women who seem to be interested in a question of this kind. Why, in the name of common sense, should not a gentleman propose marriage by letter if that method suits him best? Certainly there is no discourtesy in such a letter. If he felt that in the quiet of his own room he could express the thought and desire of his heart better than he could by speech, the probabilities are that he is a thoughtful, earnest, sensible man. For such a man to condone the discourtesy of returning him his honest letter without other answer would, I should think, be very difficult.

A young couple stands near an outdoor bench. She is facing away from him, looking angry with her nose in the air. He looks down at the ground, dejected.

Honestly, the possibilities are that he would decide that he had been mistaken in the character of the lady, and had made a narrow escape.

It is all very well to cultivate dignity and a certain fine self-respect; every true woman, even though she be quite young, should be enveloped by these as with a garment; but there is in some natures a tendency to let these degenerate until the persons become—what shall I say? Finical? Over nice? Neither of these quite covers the thought, but perhaps you understand me.

A young man tips his hat to a young woman who looks annoyed.

Do you not know people who seem to be on the watch for something at which to take offence, people who will not hesitate to stab the deepest feelings of their dearest friends because of some fancied slight or discourtesy?  I know young ladies who pride themselves upon their extreme sensitiveness in such directions, and seem to think that they are made of finer grain than others, when the fact is that there is really no trait easier to cultivate. To think much about one’s self, and to imagine that others do not think enough about us, seems to be first, instead of second, nature to many.

Now, after this lengthy digression, let me try to answer the question, “What can be done to right matters?”

A young couple sits outside on a fence rail, facing away from each other as if they have had a disagreement.

My dear, if you are really a sincere, self-respecting girl, and the gentleman has the character that you ascribe to him, write him a letter stating frankly that you unwittingly insulted him; that you are ashamed of yourself, and want to be forgiven. That may “right matters” in your individual case, and it may not. It depends on whether the gentleman is high-minded and unselfish, and so deeply attached to you that he is able to overlook your faults.

Oh, dear! Isabella wasn’t very sympathetic to the young lady’s plight, was she?

Do you think Isabella gave her good advice?

How would you react if you received a marriage proposal by mail?

7 thoughts on “Advice About Righting the Wrong Marriage Proposal

  1. My grandfather proposed to my grandmother by letter, but they were in different cities.
    If it had happened to me, with the man in the same city, I would have accepted if I were in love with him and wanted to be married to him.

  2. Isabella’s answer is quite fascinating! I’m honestly surprised that she would take the side of the man so earnestly. I imagine nowadays women would not appreciate a non-in-person proposal (based on their annoyance about a break-up over text message). I can actually understand Isabella’s sympathy very well, as I–were I a man–might prefer to express my thoughts and feelings in writing. And honestly, in modern times, receiving anything by mail is a whole lot more heartfelt than plenty of other communication mediums.


    1. I agree with you. With so many of our communications electronic, it’s a treat to get something in the mail, especially if it’s something good (like a marriage proposal)! Thanks for sharing your thoughts about the post. —Jenny

  3. I think Isabella was as sympathetic as was appropriate: not much. Isabella gave very good advice, and hopefully the young lady in question took it. I would hope that I would value the man and his proposal over the delivery, It’s a question of what’s the most important, isn’t it? Like preparing for marriage is much more important than having the “perfect” wedding.

    1. “Preparing for marriage is much more important than having the perfect wedding.” You are so right! Life gives us lots of little tests where we have to decide to overlook a temporary, transient irritant in exchange for receiving something so much better in the long run. I hope the young lady took Isabella’s advice. Thanks for sharing your thoughts! —Jenny

  4. I was surprised by Isabella’s answer. I thought she would say something about the Man’s character! But her answer made a lot of sense. I have often counseled my children to write letters for things that were very serious and needed thought, by them and the person who would receive it. And being shy with the lady you love is not the worst trait in a man! Even the apostle Paul said that he wrote more eloquently than he could speak. Thank you for sharing. Nowadays, many proposals are scripted and videotaped in some perfect location, but how I would love to have a letter now, 35 years later, if my husband had done this. 🙂 (but would I have said yes?)

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