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Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Domestic Violence in Victorian Britain

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In this research paper, I aim to explore the "wife beating" culture that was a prominent part of Victorian society in the British 19th century. Though a recent research paper in the subject of domestic violence might seek to concentrate on a certain class and try to assign domestic violence as a characteristic of the lower classes, the fact of the matter is that during the Victorian era, wife beating was a practice that was prevalent among all social classes of and corners of society. Within William Montagu's social investigation entitled Round London, Down Easy And Up West, there are many tales from women who had been hospitalised, "sometimes as many as twelve or fourteen" in the seating room, who are in need of medical attention due to injuries inflicted by abusive and/or drunk husbands. There is a safe assumption that can be that to indicate that the prominence of alcohol in all areas of society may have been a leading factor in the increase of domestic violence incidents during this time.

It is not only Montagu who attests to the fact that domestic violence was prevalent in all social classes during the Victorian age. Caroline Norton, a mid 19th century English author, regularly included in the work her husband's continuous abuse, and her husband was a respected member of parliament, not a lower class drunk. She once wrote that his "physical violence" towards her was only stopped by the servants, who restrained him from "inflicting serious damage".

The famous article "Spousal Abuse" provides a commentary on the Victorian perception of domestic principles, religion and broadly how the laws allowed husbands to justify the beating of their wives. On a very broad scale, domestic violence within the Victorian era can be attributed to the universal idea at the time that man was the ruler of all, and that his wife was simply another possession to keep and to treat however he saw fit. The element of religion also played heavily in to this, as the "emphasis of religious based subordination suggested that, for a woman to be virtuous and serve God, she must follow the lead of her husband" and type of command gave men the freedom to abuse and gave women a reason to accept it. With religion often being cited as the most important ideal in Victorian culture, it is easy to see how this culture of domestic violence was born ad expanded throughout the classes and social structures.

Alongside religion is the key fact that Victorian England promoted the absolute dominance of men, despite having a powerful female ruler on the throne. The general belief was that it was the duty of a husband to protect his wife, and this included violence against her in order to keep her line if she strayed from the ideal. Caroline Norton again gives an insight in to this when she recalls an episode with her husband in which she defends the actions of another woman and is immediately "seized ... by the nape of the neck, dashed ... down on the floor", all for expressing a view that did not align with her spouse's.

Another factor in the acceptance of wife beating during the Victorian age was that the majority of the laws were in favour of men, including legal power over their wife's possessions, wages, children, and even any inheritance from her side of the family. As a result of this, many wives felt, for want of a better word, enslaved by the circumstances of their marriage, and fearing that they would have their children and financial security taken away, became submissive to the potential threat of physic

Ultimately, research papers such as this one aim to look to provide a deeper exploration of a single topic, and in this particular instance, research papers have come to suggest that the Victorian era, thanks to a number of contributing factors including, biased law, patriarchal society, abundance of alcohol and societal misogyny, was a particularly rife time in history where the presence of domestic violence within a marriage was at it's most tolerated level in the course of British history over the last 200 years.