Created By: Windsong12 on July 9, 2011 Last Edited By: jormis29 on May 9, 2015

Dowry Dilemma

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

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Congratulations! You've found the love of your life! You've overcome nearly all the trials lovers need to overcome and you're this close to announcing your 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

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 dowry is, since she is such a shrew. Then Petruchio comes to town and the only thing he cares about is the dowry.

Real Life
  • St. Nicholas was said to have thrown purses filled with gold into the house of a man who could not afford the dowries for his three daughters under the cover of night so the man would not be embarrassed at having to accepting charity.


Community Feedback Replies: 47
  • July 17, 2011
    Synchronicity
    Bump? This seems like a perfectly viable trope to me, albeit I don't have any examples...
  • August 9, 2011
    jatay3
    Sostratos' sister had this difficulty in Over The Wine Dark Sea .
  • August 10, 2011
    Nocturna
    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.
  • August 10, 2011
    LarryD
    bridewealth is the converse, and may occur alongside the dowry (dower is another term for dowry)

    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.

    Dower also describes to the money, goods, or estate given to support a postulant at a convent.
  • August 10, 2011
    Bisected8
    • Solving this was said to be how St. Nicholas got his start.
  • August 12, 2011
    Mozgwsloiku
    One of the scenes that bring home how much of a miser Harpagon is is that he is entirely willing to marry off his daughter against her will, against all sorts of arguments, only because the husband-to-be is willing to take her without a dowry.
  • August 12, 2011
    NoirGrimoir
    How about Dowry Dilemmas?
  • August 17, 2011
    Nocturna
    You missed my Jane Austen example.
  • September 2, 2011
    Synchronicity
    .
  • October 13, 2011
    Synchronicity
    bump
  • October 13, 2011
    jatay3
    Brideprice often is related to Engagement Challenge
  • October 13, 2011
    jatay3
    This troper heard one story in a sermon about a plain looking Polynesian woman(in around the 1800's so) who mopped about her inability to find a husband until a rich young local merchant fell in love with her. The young man bought five cattle as brideprice to extravagantly demonstrate his feelings, and the woman was right away known as a "five cow wife".
  • October 13, 2011
    jatay3
    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.
  • October 13, 2011
    azmod
    • On 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.
  • October 13, 2011
    randomsurfer
    ^^^Only 1 p in "moped." (Yes, it's spelled the same as a moped.) Unless of course you mean that she was so despondent that she resorted to cleaning her kitchen or something.
  • October 13, 2011
    ChunkyDaddy
    This trope is common in many Bollywood movies, especially Family dramas.
  • October 13, 2011
    Fanra
    Is this trope only for major dowry problems or do you want to open it to all dowry examples?
  • October 13, 2011
    surgoshan
    • 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.
  • November 13, 2011
    NateTheGreat
    Re: The "Five Cow Wife" example. Acually, it's eight cows.

    The story is called "Johnny Lingo." Original story here. Live-action adaptation here.
  • November 13, 2011
    Sackett
    ^ "Mahana you ugly!"

    Johnny Lingo, a classic.
  • November 13, 2011
    aunny
    I love Johnny Lingo, and I think the trope should be called "Eight Cow Woman"
  • November 14, 2011
    Antigone3
    There's a humorous twist to this early in the Malloreon. Garion is trying to get Mandorallan and Nerina married before something else goes wrong. One obstacle that comes up is Nerina's dowry -- Mandorallan doesn't care about it, but Nerina insists that she has to have a large one for social reasons. (Garion gets stuck with the bill.)
  • September 25, 2013
    Synchronicity
  • September 25, 2013
    Chabal2
    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.

    • 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.
    • 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.
  • September 25, 2013
    jastay3
    Alluded to in the song "matchmaker" in Fiddler On The Roof.
  • September 25, 2013
    kjnoren
    Should probably be simply Dowry Dilemma. I also think the laconic could be worded better, maybe:

    Trouble raising the money or resources required for a dowry or a bride price.
  • September 25, 2013
    Koveras
    • 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.
  • September 25, 2013
    randomsurfer
    In The Taming Of The Shrew 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.
  • September 26, 2013
    DAN004
    How is this thing Older Than Dirt? What's the oldest example?
  • October 12, 2013
    Synchronicity
  • October 13, 2013
    Arivne
    Namespaced and italicized work titles.
  • October 17, 2013
    Chabal2
    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.

  • November 23, 2013
    kjnoren
    One minor thing for the description: drop the links in the first paragraph, they don't add anything to the description. I can see how Starcrossed Lovers fit somewhat, but Secret Relationship is wholly ancillary to this trope.
  • January 24, 2015
    randomsurfer
    In a National Lampoon magazine "Foto Funnies" strip a vaguely Arabic man tells the reader that he has struggled to come up with the large dowery that the would-be husband's family has placed on marrying his sister [Ed note: I get the feeling I didn't word that quite right.] Then the man turns to his sister and says "what do you think? Do you love him?" The joke being that he has paid the dowery and now is asking the sister if she wants to get married.
  • January 25, 2015
    shiro_okami
    • Inverted in The Quiet Man, where argument over a dowry provides the conflict. The husband cares nothing about the dowry that his brother-in-law refuses to pay, but his wife is very upset about her husband not receiving her dowry and is mad at her husband for not demanding it (not for the sake of the money itself, but what it represents).
  • January 27, 2015
    jormis29
    • Examples section formatting
      • Blue Linked media section titles.
      • Namespaced and italicized work names.
      • Spelling, dowery —> dowry
      • Expanded the St. Nicholas section.

    Does anyone know the name of the Sherlock Holmes story the example refers to?
  • January 28, 2015
    Arivne
    ^ The Sherlock Holmes short story is "A Case of Identity".
  • January 28, 2015
    jormis29
    ^ I thought it might be, it just that the story says nothing about having to pay a dowry as far as I can remember just the stepfather wanting to keep leeching off her income
  • January 28, 2015
    Spindriver
    • The "funny foreigner" gag shows up in Pratchett's Jingo, where it is meticulously lampshaded ("This is another test, isn't it ... ?") and analyzed; the foreigner knows exactly what he's doing.
    "For Mrs Boggis?" Vimes waggled a hanmd dismissively. "Nah ... four camels, maybe four camels and a goat in a good light. And when she's had a shave."

    • In L Sprague De Camp's An Elephant for Aristotle, set in the age of Alexander The Great, the Greek hero falls for a well-born Persian woman, while the woman's brother falls for the hero's own sister. This creates many problems, given that both cultures have a bias against foreign marriages, but one is that Greeks give dowries, while Persians give bride payments. Weirdly, it takes the hero's smart brother to point out the obvious solution.
  • January 28, 2015
    arivor
    I get the Added Alliterative Appeal, but the situation described by this trope is not a dilemma. A dilemma is a situation in which you have two unpleasant or unacceptable choices. The situation described here offers you no choice at all, since you can't very well choose to pay the dowry if you simply do not have enough money to do so.

    ^ Please state "the obvious solution" for people who have not read the story in question.
  • January 29, 2015
    Spindriver
    1. "Dowry Difficulty"?

    2. Alright, to clarify this, "...but one involves the fact that Greeks give dowries, while Persians give bride payments, and all parties are facing some financial limitations when the romances first arise. Fortunately, the hero's smart brother comes up with a rather obvious solution involving the payments more or less cancelling out, bolstered by a stroke of financial good luck for the hero."
  • January 29, 2015
    Hertzyscowicz
    Literature:
    • The Vorkosigan Saga: Mark has the difference between pride-price and dowry explained when he offers to pay Koudelka for continuing to date his daughter.
    • Belisarius Series: Tahmina's dowry could have been an extortionate sum that bankrupted the Persian Empire, but instead was simply a horse and a horse-bow, in reference to a saying that a Persian should teach his son to "ride a horse, to shoot a bow and to despise all lies."
  • April 22, 2015
    Pyrotech_Nick
    Video Games:
    • Assassins Creed 2: An inverted example. Due to her temper, Giovanni (Ezio's father) was forced to raise Claudia's dowry by 1,000 florins, since she scared off all of her suitors.
    • Played for Laughs in Dragon Age 2: During one of the companion quests, after many unsucessful yet hilarious methods of courting one of her guardsmen, Guard-Captain Aveline resorts to presenting herself with a dowry to the guard's mother and Hawke being the one presenting her.
      • Lampshaded by Merrill if she is in your party.
      Merrill: Don't be silly! A dowry would only matter if you were courting him!
      Aveline: Merrill...
      Merrill: (gasps) You're courting him!
  • May 8, 2015
    Pyrotech_Nick
  • May 9, 2015
    eroock
  • May 9, 2015
    CrypticMirror
  • May 9, 2015
    shimaspawn
    ^ I think that not being able to put together a dowry is a slightly different trope than a couple who can't support themselves. Especially since in many cases the husband is perfectly successful, but it's the wife's family who can't put together a dowry. They're sister tropes, not the same trope.

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