Bleak Houses: Marital Violence in Victorian Fiction

Overview

The Offenses Against the Person Act of 1828 opened magistrates' courts to abused working-class wives. Newspapers in turn reported on these proceedings, and in this way the Victorian scrutiny of domestic conduct began. But how did popular fiction treat “private” family violence? Bleak Houses: Marital Violence in Victorian Fiction traces novelists' engagement with the wife-assault debates in the public press between 1828 and the turn of the century.

Lisa Surridge examines the ...

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Overview

The Offenses Against the Person Act of 1828 opened magistrates' courts to abused working-class wives. Newspapers in turn reported on these proceedings, and in this way the Victorian scrutiny of domestic conduct began. But how did popular fiction treat “private” family violence? Bleak Houses: Marital Violence in Victorian Fiction traces novelists' engagement with the wife-assault debates in the public press between 1828 and the turn of the century.

Lisa Surridge examines the early works of Charles Dickens and reads Dombey and Son and Anne Brontë's The Tenant of Wildfell Hall in the context of the intense debates on wife assault and manliness in the late 1840s and early 1850s. Surridge explores George Eliot's Janet's Repentance in light of the parliamentary debates on the 1857 Divorce Act. Marital cruelty trials provide the structure for both Wilkie Collins's The Woman in White and Anthony Trollope's He Knew He Was Right.

Locating the New Woman fiction of Mona Caird and the reassuring detective investigations of Sherlock Holmes in the context of late-Victorian feminism and the great marriage debate in the Daily Telegraph, Surridge illustrates how fin-de-siècle fiction brought male sexual violence and the viability of marriage itself under public scrutiny. Bleak Houses thus demonstrates how Victorian fiction was concerned about the wife-assault debates of the nineteenth century, debates which both constructed and invaded the privacy of the middle-class home.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Professor Surridge exhibits a clear and persuasive historical sense as well as sensitivity to the novels and stories. I believe this study will have lasting value because of its careful historical research and corresponding interpretation of the texts."
— Naomi Wood, Kansas State University

“From a historian’s perspective, Surridge’s interpretations of individual texts are persuasive, yet it is her contextualization of these works of fiction within ongoing reform movements and newspaper reporting that makes this a truly remarkable book.”
CLIO

“A carefully researched and lucidly written investigation of literary portrayals of domestic violence.... Surridge’s precise historicizing reveals fictional subtleties with new clarity.”
Victorian Studies

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780821416426
  • Publisher: Ohio University Press
  • Publication date: 11/10/2005
  • Pages: 288
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.81 (d)

Meet the Author

Lisa Surridge is associate professor of English at the University of Victoria, Canada. She is co-editor of Mary Elizabeth Braddon's Aurora Floyd and has published on Victorian fiction in many journals including Victorian Literature and Culture, Women's Writing, Dickens Studies Annual, Victorian Newsletter, and Victorians Institute Journal.

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Table of Contents

List of Illustrations vii
Acknowledgments ix
List of Abbreviations xi
Introduction 1
1 Private Violence in the Public Eye: The Early Writings of Charles Dickens 15
2 Domestic Violence and Middle-Class Manliness: Dombey and Son 44
3 From Regency Violence to Victorian Feminism: The Tenant of Wildfell Hall 72
4 The Abused Woman and the Community: "Janet's Repentance" 103
5 Strange Revelations: The Divorce Court, the Newspaper, and The Woman in White 132
6 The Private Eye and the Public Gaze: He Knew He Was Right 165
7 Marital Violence and the New Woman: The Wing of Azrael 187
8 "Are Women Protected?" Sherlock Holmes and the Violent Home 216
Notes 247
Bibliography 255
Index 263
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