Edwardian Stories of Divorce

Edwardian Stories of Divorce

Edwardian Stories of Divorce

Edwardian Stories of Divorce


Much as abortion in the United States today is a contentious issue used for scripting women's roles and potential into the national agenda, divorce was an issue dividing England in the Edwardian era. According to Janice Harris, anything and everything, from illicit sex and family values to the Garden of Eden, wrath of children, poverty of women, nature of cruelty, scandal of America, threat of Germany, and future of England were part of the debate over divorce. Living under marriage laws far more restrictive than those of their Protestant neighbors, Edwardian women and men campaigned for reform with a barrage of compelling stories. Organizing her analysis around three major sources of narrative on divorce - the Sunday papers, the Report of the Royal Commission on Divorce and Matrimonial Causes, and the novel - Harris uncovers a war of words and a competition of tales. In raising questions about the winners, losers, and spoils, Harris expands our understanding of the history of divorce, the wars between the sexes, and the political import of those wars. In the end, she presents a complex and lively story herself, one that illuminates battles over marriage and divorce taking place in our own era as well. This humane book on a long-neglected subject marks an important contribution to narrative studies and Edwardian history.


Never such innocence, Never before or since, As changed itself to past Without a word--the men Leaving the gardens tidy, The thousands of marriages Lasting a little while longer: Never such innocence again.

--Philip Larkin, from "MCMXIV" (1964)

Useless for Hilda to take that casual tone! Useless for Edwin to hum! The unconcealable thought in each of their minds was--and each could divine the other's thought and almost hear its vibration:

"We might end in the divorce court, too."

Hence their self-consciousness.

The thought was absurd, irrational, indefensible, shocking. It had no father and no mother, it sprang out of naught; but it existed, and it had force enough to make them uncomfortable.

--Arnold Bennett, These Twain (1915)

This book has two purposes: to expand understanding of the Edwardian era and to complicate the stories we tell of divorce. In his pathbreaking study, The Edwardian Turn of Mind, Samuel Hynes cut through the nostalgia that blurred many earlier studies of the decade. Analyzing a series of tense internal divisions troubling Edwardians--rich versus poor, employer versus employee, English versus Irish, conservative versus liberal, and . . .

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