In the aristocracy (as portrayed in the silver fork novels), family meant only one thing: business. Children were raised by nannies and generally seen once per day by their parents. The reputation and marriage of siblings, or even of distant relatives, had direct influence over one’s own prospects and opportunities.

Every person, based on their position within the family, had a specific role to play out within the general plan of keeping a dynasty wealthy and socially powerful.Women were expected to marry well, produce an ‘heir and a spare’ immediately (but not have too many children, which might strain family finances), and be ornamental hostesses. Titled men were likewise responsible for producing an ‘heir and a spare’, being responsible with the finances and estates, and having political influence. Fathers were expected to die at a reasonably early age, so eldest sons could enjoy the prestige of a title during young adulthood. Eldest sons were expected to marry heiresses. Younger sons were expected to stay out of the way and spend as little money as possible.

Frontispiece Illustration to "The Medical Adviser and Complete Guide to Health and Long Life".  With permission of the University of Glasgow Library Special Collections. Shelfmark Sp Coll BG59-e.23-24

Frontispiece Illustration to “The Medical Adviser and Complete Guide to Health and Long Life”.
With permission of the University of Glasgow Library Special Collections.
Shelfmark Sp Coll BG59-e.23-24


  • “One’s first duty in life is towards one’s family; and one’s first duty towards one’s family is to sacrifice all other considerations to its interests” (Women As They Are 1:163).
  • “’It is the absolute duty of elder sons to marry’” (The Three Eras of Woman’s Life 3:110).
  • “’And what do I owe to my family, my connexions, and the world?’ inquired De Beauvoir, in an indignant tone . . . The indolent Lady Susan was amazed into a start and a look of surprise . . . ‘You owe them a fashionable wife, with fortune, and high connexions’” (Agnes Serle 1:25).

Younger Brothers

  • “’You have only two things to avoid, – play and politics. Play and politics are for elder sons’” (Cecil 31).
  • “Her father had been the youngest brother, and, like many other younger brothers, both unnecessary and imprudent” (Romance and Reality 1:5).
  • “’Second sons are the ruin of every provident mother’s temper and constitution’” (Tales of Fashion and Reality 15).
  • “Beware of younger sons; they are a race especially patronized by girls, who are not aware of the danger of such proceedings. In general society they are of use to call the carriage, take mothers to the supper-room, &c., &c.” (Tales of Fashion and Reality 55).
  • “’I was a seventh son; he [my father] did not know what in the world to do with me’” (Arlington 1:45).
  • “The eldest son George, as an eldest son, was of course nothing; the second, Horace, as a second son, had to look to a profession for his support” (Hyde Nugent 1:47).


  • “It was the fashion in those days, to call one’s mother a bore. Mothers have rather risen in the market since, and fathers have gone down’” (Cecil 38).
  • “the fathers and elder sons of all great families hate each other. The Crown Prince is always in opposition to the crown or hankering after it . . . And it stand to reason that every great man, having experienced this feeling towards his father, must be aware that his son entertains it towards himself; and so they can’t but be suspicious and hostile . . . [and] every elder brother looks upon the cadets of the house as his natural enemies, who deprive him of so much ready-money which ought to be his by right” (Vanity Fair 547).
  • “it is frequently exceedingly inconvenient to have one’s mother divorced” (Pelham 1:4).


  • “My son is my son till he gets him a wife;/ My daughter’s my daughter all days of her life” (Sayings and Doings, Second Series, Vol. I 9).
  • “In the year of her marriage, the Honourable Mrs. Purefoy brought forth twins, a boy and a girl, – and the circumstance shocked her much. She considered it vulgar in the extreme; nothing similar could be cited of any of her family, or of any other condition” (The English in France 1:5).
  • “I am unwilling to admit, that a person so provident as Lady Maria Willingham, could have been guilty of producing a daughter in utter disregard of the Heddeston Court entail! A daughter, however, it was; and . . . a second came to magnify the sum total of her disasters! Two little Miss Willinghams in less than three years; – and Charles pretending to be so fond of them too – just by way of contradiction!” (Mothers and Daughters 1:13).

Distant Relations

  • “rich relations who have kind intentions towards the junior branches of their family, generally require, in return, the trifling sacrifice of their happiness in the important point of marriage” (The Davenels 1:234).
  • “’One first-rate genius is enough in a family’” (The Baronet 105).
  • “Now every family has its great man, whether he be a peer of the realm, a knight, an orator, a poet, a statesman, or a hero; still to that name his humbler relations continually recur with pride and gratification” (Graham Hamilton 1:15).

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