Both of my parents were prodigious readers. My father, the physicist, read histories, biographies, dictionaries, and the occasional mystery. Somerset Maugham as light relief. I have inherited their passion for reading and last summer indulged my literary geek heart out by attending Dickens Universe. Rosamund is unhappy in her marriage with a husband who has been unsuccessful professionally and now is in debt.
Thus one of the tragedies of this novel set in the s—the unhappy marriage in which Rosamund and Lydgate find themselves has no lawful exit.
William Blackstone, in his Commentaries on the Law of Englandrecognized husband and wife as one person in the law and that person was represented by the husband. A couple could only be divorced by the passage of a private act through Parliament—remedy available only to the very wealthy. According to Feminism, Marriage and the Law in Victorian England,about ten private acts for divorce were passed in Parliament each year.
How to rescue your marriage from empty nest syndrome
Rochester has determined his wife is mad, locked her up, and taken control of all of her property. As the novel is written, we are not inclined to be particularly sympathetic to Mrs. Rochester, who sets fires and bites people. It seems likely that she is mad and should not be allowed out into society.
However, it is not a board of doctors or a court which has ruled on her condition and treatment, but rather her husband alone who has decided to hide her away. Although the novel questions Mr. The supposed widow, Helen Graham, along with her young son, takes up residence at Wildfell Hall. As a strange woman in a small town, she quickly attracts gossip from other jealous women in the town.
As an explanation for her refusal to marry him, Helen gives Gilbert her diaries, which chronicle her life as the wife of an abusive drunkard who has affairs with her friends and finally tries to corrupt their young son, urging him to drink and swear at five years old. The Tenant of Wildfell Hall is set in the decade before Middlemarch. When Helen flees her husband inshe is breaking the law and depriving her husband of his property—herself and their son. Robinson after T. Lest you think these novels were overwrought, Caroline Nortona writer and social reformer, had a story which rivals that of most fictional heroines.
Caroline married George Norton inand the marriage was marked by his outbursts of violence. Finally, inGeorge removed their three children to another house and barred Caroline from entering. Although George quickly lost the case, the Norton marriage could not be dissolved and George could continue to deny Caroline access to her children. Caroline helped advocate for the passage of the Custody of Infants Actwhich granted mothers custody of children under the age of seven and access to children under the age of sixteen.
By the s, these problems led Parliament to consider legislation to amend existing divorce law, including the establishment of a court to hear divorce cases.
Because of this concern, the Matrimonial Causes Act only established one court in London that could grant divorces and continued to make divorce unavailable to many people throughout England. Parliament was also unwilling to grant equality to the sexes on the grounds for divorce. A man could divorce his wife for one instance of adultery but a woman could only obtain a divorce if her husband was physically cruel, incestuous, or bestial in addition to being adulterous.
Moreover, if a woman left her husband before obtaining a divorce, she lost all claim to any property, even that which she brought to the marriage, as well as custody of the children. Later amendments to the bill provided some relief to women who had been deserted by their husbands by recognizing them under the law as femme sole ; however, the law failed to address the issue as to whether a wife in an ongoing marriage had any right to her property.
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As such, the unhappy wives in these novels, and in real life, were forced to be unhappy for most of the 19 th century. Excellent coverage of the subject. Thanks for bringing up Anne Bronte. I just finished reading her Agnes Grey. Very interesting indeed. And sad.
Why are women so unhappy?
However, it brings another question for me :. Do you remember lady Catherine de Bourgh from Pride and Prejudice?
Her daughter was supposed to inherit the estate, etc. Even if it is inherited through female lineage? I had a question regarding the Custody of Infants Act. Did the mother automatically get custody of children younger than seven, or did the father receive automatic custody and the mother could petition for custody? I was wondering because other credible sources are saying something different.
What an interesting article. I came across it whilst looking for background information into my family tree.
My 3X great grandfather was sentenced to 7 years deportation to Australia in It also looks like my 3X great grandmother who was left in England with 4 children to look after also remarried. Neither would have had the resources for a private Act of parliament so presumably both remarriages would have been bigamous. I wonder if this was very common?
My paternal gggrandfather was also transported to Australia for 7 years in and never returned to the wife he left behind in England. He remarried in Australia and fathered eleven children. Interestingly his wife in England was still using her married name at the time of the census but had reverted to her maiden name and described herself as a widow which was not the case by the time of the census. She later remarried even though her husband was still alive in Australia. This blog is governed by the general rules of respectful civil discourse.
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We further reserve the right, in our sole discretion, to remove a user's privilege to post content on the Library site. Read our Comment and Posting Policy. Elizabeth March 1, at am Fascinating!
For the kids?
Tana December 17, at pm Very interesting indeed. David Edwards November 12, at am What an interesting article. Brian Bond February 15, at am My paternal gggrandfather was also transported to Australia for 7 years in and never returned to the wife he left behind in England.