November 21st, 2005


Cruelty has arrived.

One of the books I had wanted for on-going research for the past few years,
    Cruelty and Companionship: Conflict in Nineteenth-Century Married Life
    by James Hammerton
has just arrived.
Imagine the following 19th century scenario with remnants that continue on today:
  • Beliefs
    • People believed, "Th' Bible sez that a woman must obey her husband in all things.", and they still do.
    • People believed that people must learn to fear God by learning the same towards the head of the household or the father, and they still do.
  • Before marriage, the father owned all of the property his daughter used.
  • Marriage proposals
    • The suitor asked the father for his daughter's hand in marriage. (She may not even know about it!)
    • In extreme cases, future father-in-laws would instruct their daughter's suitors in the best way to discipline their future wives.
  • After marriage, the husband owned all of the property his wife used.
  • Adultery, non-consummation of marriage, irreconcilable differences, and mental cruelty were all legal grounds for divorce, however
    • The police, the jury, and the judiciary were all men.
    • Only the husband could file for divorce
    • A divorced woman of even the highest standing could be left penniless on the streets. (The husband still owns all of the property.)
As an exception, it is important to note that most of the lower class could not afford to legally marry and "lived in sin", but they also believed that a young woman with bruises, "makes her all the keener on the man that delivered them." (A man and a women were legally married by common law after living together for three years.)
Women were little more than slaves. While both men and women had affairs outside of marriage, only the husband could legally get away with it (see above for why). Domestic violence counted as assault and battery, but continued to prevail in all levels of society. Violence towards women and children was seen as an accepted method of maintaining order and discipline.
I don't advocate these beliefs. My primary attraction to Victorian England is the social conflict and the hypocrasy of the time. If anything, I believe in some of the higher ideals that they held to, but women are not property and married women should be partners in the relationship.
If you walk away from this having gained anything then question the assumptions we make as a society, especially the ones that use God for their justifications for abuse. Those that continue to believe that a woman must obey her husband in all things can always choose to never hold that power over her and decide instead to live in a partnership.
All of this, and I have yet to read the book. I hope it's a good one.

I have Dreadful Delight

This also came in, but I did not know it:
    City of Dreadful Delight: Narratives of Sexual Danger in Late-Victorian London
    by Judith R. Walkowitz

I had seen this book before in a book store in Round Rock, Texas at least a year ago! I didn't buy it then and had regretted it because it was gone the next time I returned to purchase it (and I had forgotten the title). All I saw at the time was the section on The Men and Women's Club, which met to talk about sexual attitudes, perceptions, and consequences. I applauded the idea, especially given the cultural atmosphere of the time, and I wanted to know more about its fate.
I somehow missed the other unrelated stories concerning child prostitution and other forms of sexual abuse detailed in the book along the way.
There is a lot of details between these two books alone that would illustrate the genesis of modern cultural attitudes and blow away the Victorian stereotype forever in the process. The idea that the man of the house as the sole or primary bread winner, for example, dates back to the relatively recent industrial revolution. Before then, a man and a woman would both be running a farm under the feudal system! The man as sole / primary bread winner was an ideal shaped by new religious and secular controls over behavior, partly modelled upon the increasingly pervasive middle class (educated labor and business owners) prescription that was passed down without discussion as the most desirable means of living.
Consider the following example, put forward by a friend of mine:
A 20 year old man who lives at home, has no driver's license, and works at McD's might be considered a loser.
A 20 year old woman who lives at home, has no driver's license, has never had a job, and is physically attractive might be considered quite the catch.
But these books, with all off their tragedy will only distract me from what I must do in the next two days.