BROKEN LIVES by Lawrence Stone

BROKEN LIVES

Separation and Divorce in England 1660-1857
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KIRKUS REVIEW

 The concluding volume of Stone's excellent trilogy on marriage in early modern England (Uncertain Unions, 1992; Road to Divorce, 1990). Starting with a summary of the legal background--the laws and rituals governing divorce when it required an act of Parliament- -Stone introduces two aspects of English life that figure prominently in the cases that follow: the role of servants in family life, and the absence of privacy. Although the substance of the cases is essentially lurid--tales of infidelity, betrayal, retribution, abuse, and humiliation--Stone's style is technical and scholarly, true to its sources in the detailed documentation that the divorces of the rich produced, revealing the lives of prominent but not famous people who otherwise hold no place in history. The cases demonstrate the shifts in society from status to contract, from religious to secular understanding, as well as the shift in power from men (who in the early years held women and their children as property) to women. They demonstrate the increased demands that both men and women made on marriage, transforming it from a merely economic arrangement to a source of pleasure, recreation, and companionship, especially in the large country houses where infidelity seemed as inevitable as boredom. One woman sued her husband for impotence, and Stone reveals the various ways that men were required to demonstrate their virility in public. Among the author's many insights is his noting of romantic fiction's disruptive role in family life, implying that, in some hands, literacy and access to popular romance were dangerous. A fascinating and factual introduction to the history of domestic life. (Illustrations)

Pub Date: July 1st, 1993
ISBN: 0-19-820254-7
Page count: 376pp
Publisher: Oxford Univ.
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15th, 1993