Dowry Dilemma
Trouble raising the money or resources required for a dowry or a bride price.


(permanent link) added: 2011-07-09 20:25:10 sponsor: Windsong12 edited by: Synchronicity (last reply: 2013-11-23 13:36:08)

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Congratulations! You've found the love of your life! You've overcome nearly all the trials Starcrossed Lovers need to overcome and you're this close to announcing your Secret Relationship to the world. You already have a wedding date planned and everything.

There's just one problem.

Your family can't pay the dowry.

A dowry (or dower) is an ancient practice, possibly predating the Code of Hammurabi. Basically, it's payment - be it in the form of livestock, goods, property, money, or any combination of the four - that the bride's family pays to the husband's family. This is usually done to ensure that the newlyweds have some "seed money" to start a household - ie, they don't start their married life broke. It's also useful incentive for the hubby to not be abusive, as the woman has certain rights to her dowry.

The practice of calling off a marriage - be it arranged or otherwise - due to the bride's family being unable to provide for her dowry - was widely practiced in Europe and Asia. This presented a problem, especially to those who were marrying their daughter off for money.

The gender-inverted, less-done version is the bridewealth, in which the husband's family pays the bride's. Dowry and bridewealth are common in societies that favor arranged marriages. If the inheritance laws or customs are designed to keep the family wealth intact (e.g., Primogeniture), then the dowry is a substitute for the bride's claims. Among renaissance Italian families women were often considered a net loss and men a net profit because women took a dowry with them whereas men brought a dowry in.

A dower can also refer to the money, goods, or estate given to support a postulant at a convent, but that's not to be confused with this trope.

A stereotypical situation is for a Funny Foreigner (usually from Qurac) to see a woman and instantly offer any number of barnyard animals to marry her, and be completely confused at the outrage, when five camels and a goat is an incredibly generous offer. Expect this trope to turn up in period pieces.

Examples

Anime and Manga
  • Crops up in Otoyomegatari occasionally, such when a family has trouble marrying off their twin daughters because both are known troublemakers and the dowry needs to be accordingly large.

Literature
  • Sostratos' sister had this difficulty in Over the Wine-Dark Sea.
  • Shows up in many of Jane Austen's works (at a time when the trope was Truth in Television), as her protagonists are often the daughters of not-particularly-wealthy gentlemen who cannot afford to give their daughters large dowries.
  • In the Daughter of the Empire trilogy of the Rift War Cycle, Mara of the Acoma very nearly inverts this trope. She has quite a substantial dowry, but her estate's suffered such a huge military loss that the problem is finding an adequate protector who A) isn't an enemy and B) is willing to shoulder the burden of protecting the estate without gaining control. Mara decides to Take a Third Option.
  • Sherlock Holmes has a situation where a lady is looking for her recently-disappeared fiance. It turns out her stepfather was abusing her poor eyesight to play the part of the fiance, so that he could both not pay the dowry and keep her income close at hand.
  • In Snuff, Vimes has the concept of a dowry explained to him, after running into a family of young women who worry about not finding husbands for this reason (in addition to suffering from Thinks Like a Romance Novel). He gets very angry.

Live Action TV
  • On The Borgias the titular family needs to arrange a politically favourable marriage for Lucritia but is lacking the money for a dowry. They engage in political murder-for-hire to raise the money.

Theater
  • The Miser. Harpagon, the titular miser, is willing to marry his daughter off to a nobleman instead of the man she wants because he has accepted to marry her without a dowry, and his son to a rich widow.
  • Alluded to in the song "Matchmaker" in Fiddler on the Roof.
  • Inverted in The Taming of the Shrew where Katherine's father can't get anyone to marry her no matter how large the dowery is, since she is such a shrew. Then Petruchio comes to town and the only thing he cares about is the dowery.

Real Life
  • Solving this was said to be how St. Nicholas got his start.

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