- The Hardships of the English Laws in Relation to Wives by Susan Paterson Glover
Glover produces for the first time a critical edition in modern type of this provocative early feminist exposé of the English legal system that allegedly enslaved married women. Contemporary manuscript sources suffice to attribute The Hardships of the English Laws in Relation to Wives to Sarah (née Kirkham) Chapone (1699–1764), the wife of an Anglican clergyman, John, in Stanton, Gloucestershire.
The introduction presents a detailed biographical and critical account of Chapone's elaborate tirade against the English legal suppression of married women, but it skims over a number of questions that inevitably arise in her narrative. Perhaps the most obvious one is whether this pamphlet may overstate the case against coverture—the legal restraints on married women and their rights to owning property. Glover ignores the argument by Joanne Bailey, cited in the bibliography, "that married women were not in reality confined within coverture's regulations on credit and property ownership. Their economic activities were fairly broad and flexible and they had an instinctive sense of possession over some goods during wedlock, perceiving their contributions to marriage as a pooling of resources for familial benefit." Curiously, in a letter to Samuel Richardson (September 21, 1754), included in an appendix to this edition, Chapone mockingly paraphrases her own words in Hardships about how the wife "being nothing" is "dead in law" while at the same time exuding confidence in her own husband's good will in giving her equal space in their marriage. Bailey's argument about the practical autonomy enjoyed by most wives despite coverture, in other words, seems to be borne out by Chapone herself, raising some doubts about her cri de coeur demeanor in Hardships. Perhaps twenty years after writing this fiery pamphlet and enjoying relatively more financial security, her mood had changed for the better.
After the 1730 reprints of Mary Astell's major writings, including Some Reflections upon Marriage, which Richardson not only printed but apparently revised, Chapone emulates this protofeminist by using reports in newspapers and periodicals as evidence of the woman's subordination under the marital contract. Yet, after carefully documenting the extensive influence of Astell on this writer's religious and moral thought, Glover makes the baffling statement: "Chapone's inspiration for writing and publishing a tract on the inequitable position of wives under the common law and challenging the biblical foundation of wives' subservience that underpinned it is unknown." What is most startling is the assertion that Hardships challenged "the biblical foundation of wives' subservience" as a primary goal. While introducing A Letter humbly address'd to the Right Honourable the Earl of Chesterfield (1750), Chapone responded with Remarks on Mrs. Muilman's Letter to the Right Honourable The Earl of Chesterfield (1750), printed by [End Page 204] Richardson and reproduced here together with Hardships, Glover observes: "There appears to be no clear evidence suggesting why Chapone might have chosen to respond to this work at this time, although there is an interesting parallel with Astell's response to the published accounts of another notorious woman, Hortense Mancini, Duchess of Mazarin." To this reader, at least, it is perfectly clear that Chapone is deliberately following her role model in attacking yet another "fallen woman," Teresia Constantia Phillips, divorced by her Dutch merchant husband, Henry Muilman, whose impiety renders her beyond the pale despite her victimization by male predators. To be fair, however, the Routledge series editors should have queried these dubious remarks beforehand.
Evidently Chapone was not alone in producing this manuscript as well as getting it published, but Glover offers little interpretation of how this cooperative undertaking was being vetted not only by Mary Pendarves, later married to Patrick Delany, but also by other deeply influential members of the Stanton circle: "The first surviving reference to Chapone's work appears in John Wesley's diary; Wesley's biographer Vivian Green notes that in July 1733 he is 'talking in the garden, reading...