Victorian Divorce: Suggested Readings

Gail Savage

St Mary's College of Maryland
Conducting a survey of the published literature on divorce presents challenges because divorce is of interest to historians, legal scholars and literary scholars. I have been working on this subject for some time, and the list I have included here, although long, is by no means complete--in particular, it does not include the most recent publishing on the subject.

For divorce in England prior to the 1857 Divorce act see: Gerhard O. W. Mueller, "Inquiry into the State of a Divorceless Society: Domestic Relations Law and Morals in England from 1660 to 1857," University of Pittsburgh Law Review 18, 3 (Spring 1957): 545-578; Sybil Wolfram, "Divorce in England 1700-1857," Oxford Journal of Legal Studies 5 (1985): 155-186 and S. Anderson, "Legislative Divorce-Law for the Aristocracy?" in Law, Economy and Society, 1750-1914: Essays in History of English Law (eds.) G. Rubin and David Sugarman, (Professional Books Limited, 1984), pp. 412-43. For separations, see Susan Staves, Married Women's Separate Property in England, 1660-1833 (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1990), and for wife sales see Samuel Pyeatt Menefree, Wives for Sale: An Ethnographic Study of British Popular Divorce (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1981).

Discussions of the passage of the Divorce Act include Margaret K. Woodhouse, "The Marriage and Divorce Bill of 1857," American Journal of Legal History 3 (1959): 260-75; Mary Lyndon Shanley, " 'One Must Ride Behind': Married women's Rights and the Divorce Act of 1857," Victorian Studies 25 (Spring 1982): 355-76; Dorothy Stetson, A Woman's Issue: The Politics of Family Law Reform in England (Westport: Greenwood Press, 1982), 28-50; Lee Holcombe, Wives and Property: Reform of the Married Women's Property Law in Nineteenth-Century England (Toronto and Buffalo: University of Toronto Press, 1983), 88-110; and Allen Hortsman, Victorian Divorce (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1985), 46-84. In addition, Keith Thomas, in his classic analysis, "The Double Standard," Journal of the History of Ideas 20 (April 1959): 195-216 draws upon the divorce debates as an important source.

Shanley and Mary Poovey have each placed their analyses of the divorce debates in a larger context. See Mary Lyndon Shanley, Feminism, Marriage and the Law in Victorian England, 1850-1895 (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1989): and Mary Poovey, Uneven Developments: The Ideological Work of Gender in Mid-Victorian England (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1988). Lawrence Stone has provided an extremely lucid narrative of the passage of the 1857 Divorce Act in Road to Divorce: England 1530-1987 (Oxford: Oxford Univeristy Press, 1990), 368-82. O. R. McGregor's Divorce in England (1957) is still useful, and Hammerton's Cruelty and Companionship makes wonderful use of divorce cases in his analysis of marital cruelty. Ann Holmes has a dissertation and some published essays on this subject, and there is a lot of essay literature on particular divorce cases and the literary representation of divorce in journals and essay collections. Leah Leneham was written a book and several articles on Scottish divorce.

Gail Savage
St. Mary's College of Maryland

[Posted to VICTORIA on 6 Mar 2002, and reproduced on VRW by author's permission.]