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ARTICLES UNSPEAKABLE HISTORIES: HESTER DETHRIDGE AND THE NARRATION OF DOMESTIC VIOLENCE IN MAN AND WIFE LISA SURRIDGE University of Victoria In July 1870, fearing that the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian War would threaten sales of the volume edition of Man and Wife, Wilkie CoUins wrotejokingly to his agent William TindeU, If the infamous 'war' is injuring us — suppose we alter the heading in the advertisements thus: (???) New Romance of Domestic War. Man and Wife, or The Mitrailleuse1 of Home, by W.C. This would instantly sell an edition!!! (Peters 320) Although facetious, Collins' proposed billing of Man and Wife as a "Romance of Domestic War" has a certain accuracy. For although its characters vie with one another to be the "Man and Wife" of the tide (O'Neill 134), the novel does little to suggest that the married state is either peaceful or secure. Rather, the text's almost relendess portrayal of wife battery, domestic incarceration, üireatened marital rape and murder represents domestic violence as a threat pervading die relationship between Victorian husband and wife. Collins' "Romance of Domestic War" was published when domestic violence was very much on the Victorian political agenda. The publication of Man and Wife in 1 870 followed more dian a decade of debate about the constitution and dissolution of marriage and the right of married women to hold property or vote. Debates on the Divorce Act of 1857, the Women's Suffrage Amendment of 1867, and die Married Victorian Review 22.2 (Winter 1996) LISA SURRIDGE103 Women's Property Act of 1870 focused specifically on marital abuse. For example, die Petitionfor Reform ofthe Married Women's Property Law (presented to Parliament on 14 March 1856) appealed for legislative change on the grounds tiiat contemporary newspapers "constantly detailed] instances of marital oppression" (Holcombe 238). The following year, the Divorce Act of 1857 sought to relieve battered women by allowing divorce on die grounds of adultery compounded by cruelty. In 1867, John Stuart MUl's speech introducing the Women's Suffrage Amendment to the Reform Bill pleaded on behalf of women "who are annually beaten to deadi, kicked to death, or trampled to death by dieir male protectors" (Shanley 159). Finally, die debates on the Married Women's Property Bills of 1868, 1869, and 1870 focused frequently on the plight of battered women, including die notorious case of Susannah Palmer, who in 1869 had attempted to kill her abusive husband after he had repeatedly drwarted her attempts to earn her living apart from him (Holcombe 144). Serialized in Cassell's Magazine in the first half of 1870,2 while the Married Women's Property Bill was before the House of Commons, and based on two of the most notorious legal trials of die previous decade (die 1861 Yelverton bigamy case and the 1869 criminal trial of Susannah Palmer), Man and Wife's exposure of "domestic war" was thus topical in die extreme. The novel's "domestic war" is played out along two plot lines. The main plot, designed by Collins to expose inconsistencies and archaisms in English, Scottish, and Irish marriage law, depicts the matrimonial legal tangles endured by the middle-class characters Anne Silvester and Geoffrey Delamayn. Drawing heavUy on the sensational Yelverton case (1861)3 and on the Report of the Royal Commission on the Laws of Marriage (1868), this plot features Anne (whose mother's Irish marriage is invalidated on ^technicality twenty years after the fact), who intends to marry Geoffrey by an "irregular" Scottish marriage;4 finds herself possibly married by accident (via anodier Scottish marriage) to Arnold, her best friend's fiancé and (later) husband; and invalidates her putative marriage to Arnold by proving a prior Scottish marriage to Geoffrey. However, whereas the Yelverton trial fascinated die Victorian public — offering, as the Annual Register remarked, "a romance equal to die feverish complications of a French novel" ("Yelverton" 528) — critics judged its fictional adaptation by Collins as "artificial" and unconvincing. They complained tiiat "the characters play hide and seek in a manner unknown in real life", and "act contrary to the commonest laws not only of conventional reality but of ordinary reason" (Page 188). It is widely accepted by critics that...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1923-3280
Print ISSN
0848-1512
Pages
pp. 102-126
Launched on MUSE
2015-10-07
Open Access
No
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