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ARTICLES DOGS'/BODIES, WOMEN'S BODIES: WIVES AS PETS IN MID-NINETEENTH-CENTURY NARRATIVES OF DOMESTIC VIOLENCE USA SURRIDGE University of Victoria It has become quite a truism that our women are like dogs, the more you beat them the more they love you. (qtd. in Frances Power Cobbe "Wife-Torture in England" 64) In an article entitled "Outrages on Women," published by the North British Review in 1856, J.W. Kaye testifies to the prevalence of spousal abuse in mid-nineteenth-century England. "It is not to be doubted," he writes, "that in the criminal annals of England, outrages upon women have of late years held a distressingly prominent position. . . . [SJcarcely a day passes that does not add one or more to the published cases of this description of offence . . ." (233-4). To illustrate the omnipresence of such narratives in contemporary newspapers, Kaye cites the following as a "typical" report from The Times: WORSHIP STREET. — Charles Sloman, a surly-looking fellow, was charged with outrages upon his wife. The wife, a decent-looking woman, who gave her evidence with manifest reluctance against her husband, said, she only wished to be parted from him; that the prisoner had lamed her with kicks, struck her in the face with his fist, and knocked her down. She had been married only eight years, but had been beaten and ill-used so many Victorian Review 20.1 (Summer 1994) Victorian Review times, that she really could not say how often, but was seldom or never without black eyes and a bruised face. . . . Mr. Hammill sentenced the prisoner to be committed to the House of Correction for six months, with hard labour, and at the expiration of that to find good bail for a further term of like duration. (234) Such a narrative, Kaye observes, was not exceptional: wife abuse had become an "every-day story" in Victorian newspapers (234). Spousal violence had also assumed prominence in the Victorian political arena. The period from 1850 to 1900 witnessed pressure to increase maximum sentences for wife battery. In 1853, the maximum penalty for aggravated assault on women was raised to £20 or six months in prison; in 1868, the maximum sentence was raised to one year. In 1856, 1872 and 1874, attempts were made to institute flogging for violent offenses against women and children, and in 1875, the Report . . . on the State of the Law relating to Brutal Assaults, &c. revealed that many members of the judiciary considered current penalties for marital cruelty insufficient to deter offenders. The Wife Beaters Act of 1882 authorized flogging and public pillory of abusers. During the same period, the ability of a woman to obtain a separation or divorce from an abusive husband was addressed by the Divorce Act of 1 857 (which permitted judicial separations on the grounds of cruelty), the Matrimonial Causes Acts Amendment Act of 1878 (which allowed the court to grant judicial separation, support and custody of children under ten to a wife whose husband was convicted of aggravated assault), and the Summary Jurisdiction (Married Women) Act of 1895 (which extended the rights of the 1878 act to women who had already left their husbands).1 Finally, the links between political disenfranchisement and wife battery were brought to the public eye in 1856 by the Petition for Women's Rights, which alluded to frequent newspaper coverage of "marital oppression," and by John Stuart Mill's speech introducing the women's suffrage amendments to the Reform Bill of 1867, which refers to the numbers of women "who are annually beaten to death ... by their male protectors" (qtd. in Shanley 159). During the period from 1850 onwards, "private" domestic conflict thus moved increasingly into the public eye. This demand for increased scrutiny of marital conduct, however, existed in tension with the establishment of the middle-class Victorian home as a domestic sanctuary — a process meticulously documented in Leonore Davidoff's and Catherine Hall's Family Fortunes (1987). As LISA SURRIDGE James Hammerton points out, "just as [marriage] became established as a bastion of privacy and domesticity, supposedly secure from outside interference, it was subjected increasingly to unprecedented scrutiny and regulation" (2). The idealized view of the middle-class...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1923-3280
Print ISSN
0848-1512
Pages
pp. 1-34
Launched on MUSE
2015-10-07
Open Access
No
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