The Rise of Love
One the things that fascinates me, historically, is the evolution of love. It's not that people haven't always felt the emotion, we can clearly see from history (mostly tragic history) that love has been a universal human emotion as long as the species has existed (or at least as long as we've had a concept of history and storytelling).
What I'm talking about is the rise of love to the place of prominence it now commands. As modern women, we've been taught that certain things are to be expected (or even taken for granted): We'll marry for love; Who we love will be our business, and our business only; Marriage without love, for purposes such as security or alliance is wrong, even degrading; Sex without love is akin to prostitution (this one some of us are a little less adamant about, but I know LOTS of women who are horrified and offended by the idea that "sometimes you just wana get laid"). These are all ideals that began back in the 18th century and came to full fruition by the end of the Victorian era. The cult of the individual was in vogue, and with it came love.
The transformation of the English family--and indeed of the world they lived in--between the Elizabethan era and the Georgian one that gave rise to this change is all encompassing. Everything changed, and it had to for love to become the end-all-be-all goal of the human species. The feudalistic system in which extended kin relationships dominated the struggle of the aristocratic classes faded away. The "family" one was seeking to protect and to promote was now the extended nuclear family, leaving more time for the head of the family to focus on what would be best for individual members, rather than what those individuals could do to help the family.
There was also a change in the way children were viewed. More and more they were being raised at home, nursed by their mothers (rather than handed over to a wet nurse living some distance away), and viewed as valuable individuals. The mortality rate among infants and young children being what it was, it is easy to understand why parents might not have wanted to grow too attached to these fragile, almost ephemeral, little beings, but the fact is that when they began to be raised at home, and nursed by their mothers, the results were a much lower mortality rate.
The world had evolved to a state where marriages, even among the children of peers, was no longer being used to cement alliances that could mean life or death for an entire family. At the same time, the ideal of love, the idea that marriage was not simply for procreation, but for companionship, was a profound change.
All the wheels had been set in motion for love to be triumphant by the 17th century, and in the 18th we see the ideal of love and marriage being joined in the minds of the populace. By the early 19th century love's place was secure, and to date nothing profound has occurred to unseat it.
For those who wish to dig deeper into this topic, I highly recommend The Rise of the Egalitarian Family and (the more easily obtainable) The Family, Sex and Marriage in England 1500-1800.