Here's is how I went with my writing assignment:
It is somewhat difficult, Mr. Stevenson, for me to read your essay, “On Marriage,” and find ideas to which I can relate, considering I’m very much not married. While I’m not presently so keen on settling down and entering into matrimony, I feel that you are perhaps too harsh on the institution.
You begin your essay with an acknowledgement of the benefits of marriage. You write, “[I]t offers to bury forever many aching preoccupations; it is to afford us unfailing and familiar company through life; it opens up a smiling prospect of the blest and passive kind of love, rather than the blessing and active; it is approached not only through the delights of courtship, but by a public performance and repeated legal signatures." Yet immediately following this long passage that seemingly applauds marriage, you confess, “And yet there is probably no other act in a man’s life so hot-headed and foolhardy as this one of marriage.” I will admit that placing your thesis directly after its antecedent makes your persuasive rhetoric effective and very amusing. I think, Mr. Stevenson, that if you were alive to see what marriage has become in modern times, you might be more admittedly open to the institution.
Feminism, Mr. Stevenson, is an institution in itself these days, and the philosophy has certainly evolved since you published your essay. You write, “What! you have had but one life to manage, and have failed so strangely, and now can see nothing wiser than to conjoin with it the management of some one else’s?” I’m afraid that if such a sentence were published in my time, the author’s reputation would feel quite a blow. (We have something called “The Internet,” a concept that would take far too long to explain, that would be a key devise in the feminist-led backlash against you.) Regardless of the public’s opinion of what could be called a misogynist point of view, gender roles have had an extreme progression, which is something you must hear about. It is absolutely normal these days for both a husband and wife to work to support the family unit; in most cases, both must work in order to make enough money to life comfortably. The working woman is a staple of the corporate world, even reaching cultural heights in literature, theatre, and film (a twentieth century marvel that I’m sure you would enjoy immensely). There are several cases where the husband may stay at home, supported by his wife’s wages. Once you overcame what you might find emasculating, you’d find that feminism has, in fact, been favorable for a few men, as well.
The courtship process leading into marriage has also changed greatly since your time. You write, “Times are changed with him who marries; there are no more by-path meadows, where you may innocently linger, but the road lies long and straight and dusty to the grave." It seems like your concern that men rashly end their most productive years too soon, giving up all of their freedom for their wives. Well, sir, you’d be happy to find that in my time, it is generally acceptable for people to avoid marriage well into their thirties. This makes for a much more open period of time where men and women and experiment with each other in hopes to find the perfect mate. The courtship rituals have become exciting routines that I am sure you would find fairly amusing; the neuroses among the single thirtysomethings make for great entertainment.
A third pessimistic view of marriage that you feature in your essay involved the burden of having an extra witness to one’s idiosyncrasies and foibles. “You have wilfully introduced a witness into your life, the scene of these defeats, and can no longer close the mind’s eye upon uncomely passages, but must stand up straight and put a name upon your actions. And your witness is not only the judge, but the victim of your sins; not only can she condemn you to the sharpest penalties, but she must herself share feelingly in their endurance.” I think you’d find glee, however, in how public the institution of marriage has become, especially in celebrity culture. The divorce rate is much higher than in your time – divorces are no longer stigmatic and negative (even the royals are having them!) Celebrity marriages and (the mostly likely eventual) divorces have become a fundamental part of our cultural entertainment. There is no reason to worry yourself on how you behave in front of your wife. Just be glad that in your time, those behaviors were not featured on the front pages of your trusted newspapers!
The institution of marriage has gone through a major change since the publication of your essay, and it will no doubt evolve years after I finish writing mine. I think that if you were alive today, Mr. Stevenson, you would have a softer opinion of marriage. It seems that the institution was quite stodgy and dull in your day, and that you’d find today’s practices much more lively and enjoyable. You would not have to worry about making the wrong choice in marrying someone with whom you were incompatible; a man of your stature and wealth would have no problem obtaining a divorce and having the opportunity to try it all over again until you got it right.