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86 Victorian Review discussion of ratepayers' democracies and compulsory legislation in Liberty and Locality (1990) which could have shed light on such issues as Liberal and Tory opposition to the Public Health Act in 1848. This book is very much about the origins of the mid-Victorian consensus but frustratingly ends in 1850, leaving die reader wanting to know more about the process of middle-class hegemony which, by die author's own admission, was incomplete at die end of his period. Radier tiian providing an outright rejection of Foster, Taylor's book suggests to this reader tiiat the evidence of class conflict in Lancashire during the heyday of the 'Condition of England question' is complex and that we must develop more sophisticated understandings of class radier than jettison it entirely. ROHAN McWILLIAM Anglia Polytechnic University, Cambridge Ginger S. Frost. Promises Broken: Courtship, Class, and Gender in Victorian England. Charlottesville: UP of Virginia, 1995. ix + 241. In Promises Broken: Courtship, Class and Gender in Victorian England Ginger Frost uses the phenomena of breach-of-promise proceedings to illuminate die norms of femininity, masculinity, and marriage upheld by members of die upper working and lower middle classes in Victorian England. Drawing upon 875 cases documented in assize records and described in newspaper accounts, her study underlines die strategic advantages which Victorian women could gain from tiieir subordinate position within patriarchal legal and social structures. Represented in die courtroom as innocent victims of male fecklessness, deceit, and sexual prédation, she argues, female plaintiffs enjoyed great success in tiieir efforts to win monetary damages from die men who had promised them marriage only to break their engagements. In this manner, single women subverted die legal system botii to secure their financial interests and to obtain a degree of psychic compensation for their failure in die marriage market Frost's analysis of this hitherto neglected aspect of women's experience has many virtues. A civil process especially popular among the lower classes, breach-of-promise affords die historian a view of die lives of men and women who — although hardly typical of die general population — were arguably far less atypical than the prostitutes, petty offenders, and felons who figure in die records of die criminal courts. Reviews87 Breach-of-promise proceedings were, moreover, usually initiated by the jilted women themselves, and thus provide an important vantage point for an analysis of women's purposive engagement with the legal system. More broadly, they reveal a wealth of information about the social and economic expectations that could make or break a marriage in Victorian England, expectations which Frost explores to particular effect. Lower class women acting on their own behalf, she finds, were well able to attract potential mates from a wide array of social groups. But they were often less successful in moving these relationships from the stage of engagement to that of marriage, especially when confronted by opposition from suitors' family/members. Again and again relatives intervened to prevent unsuitable unions, a tactic that appears to have been especially effective when the disparity in the couple's social standing was especially great If breach-of-promise proceedings provide important information on family formation in the Victorian era, they also help to document die antinomies of gender formation in this period. Frost is at considerable pains to emphasize both the dual operation of notions of masculinity and femininity and to underline the extent to which these conceptual systems were fragmented, rather than monolithic, in historical experience. Most significant in this respect is her finding that, despite the great emphasis placed by Victorian moralists on the importance of female chastity, a woman who had engaged in premarital sex with her intended husband — as had a quarter of all breach-of-promise claimants — could expect to meet with compassion rather than recrimination in the civil courts. Thus in delivering their verdicts "and setting damages, juries made no distinction between sexually active women and those who had remained chaste; the median awards for both were £100" (113). Frost's explanation for this leniency on the part of breach-ofpromise juries — her argument that dominant conceptions of masculinity, by emphasizing both the moral responsibility and the sexual aggression...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1923-3280
Print ISSN
0848-1512
Pages
pp. 86-88
Launched on MUSE
2015-10-07
Open Access
No
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