Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Marriage, Morals & Divorce in 19th Century

I've been writing with feverish intent to bring Suzette and Robert back together in The Price of Deception. It took me two chapters to set up the reunion after five years of being apart. Frankly, I was surprised at how emotional I became writing the scenes, but found myself struggling how to undo the web of deception I've created in this story.After taking two lovers and marrying each to different spouses, I did not think much about my plan originally. However, since I've been a stickler on historical accuracy, I've been actively reading up on marriage and divorce and finding myself in a pickle. It's fascinating reading, of course, taking all that romance out of the equation once again so we can check back into reality. Let's just say, marriage and divorce was nothing like it is today.

Marriages in the Victorian era were described as being three kinds: those contracted for convenience, those produced by sympathy or love, and those entered into from duty. The aristocracy put great importance on the antiquity and nobility of the families they married, as well as marrying for money. Though love in marriage might be ideal, it was not a practical reality, and people were told not to expect too much from marriage. If you found an ounce of happiness in your union, be thankful.

What about unhappy marriages? Divorce was not easily obtained. Extramarital sexual relations were a normal feature of life. After marriage, adultery was almost inevitable. Adultery, believe it or not, was preferred to divorce, mainly because it was difficult and expensive to obtain. The fact of the matter was that most men had sex with their wives for children, and bedded their mistresses for love and pleasure. A wife had the duty to obey her husband and produce heirs, and in return for her obedience, the husband owed her protection and security.

Divorce in England and France evolved over the years, coupled with Catholic and Anglican restrictions. Since Suzette is a married French woman, her cause for divorce can only be if Philippe is an adulterer and is coupled with other unpleasant circumstances such as physical cruelty, etc. Adultery alone was not grounds for divorce for a woman. However, Philippe could divorce Suzette for adultery and no other cause. To file for divorce, a petition had to be brought before the president of the chambers, and there had to be two attempts before the court to reconcile the marriage. If the marriage failed to reconcile, then court proceedings would continue. Upon the divorce, the children would go to the custody of the husband in 1884, but by 1886 it was left at the discretion of the court. The wife had to take back her maiden name and was forbidden to keep her husband's name. The husband could remarry at once, but the wife had to wait 10 months after divorce before she was allowed to marry again.

As for Robert and marriages in Victorian England, the rules were similar. "The husband could obtain a divorce for adultery, the wife could obtain a divorce for adultery coupled with cruelty or desertion for two or more years, and also for incestuous or bigamous adultery, or rape, or unnatural offenses." (Encyclopedia Britannica) Divorce could be a lengthy and costly procedure that only the rich could usually afford.

So where does that leave my characters? With quite a few obstacles, frankly, that I need to ingeniously work around without killing anyone in the process by relying upon the "until death do us part" promises. If I was really brave, I could just take creative liberty with my story and do as I please; but where is the challenge in that?

Stay tuned as I unhook these four individuals from one another. It could get pretty nasty while I try, so be prepared for a lot of conflict in volume two.

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