Property Rights of the Victorian Woman
Before 1870, any money a wife earned, gained from investments, received as a gift, or inherited became her husband’s upon marriage. Any she acquired afterwards was his too. He could dispose of all ‘movable’ property as he wished. And while she could ‘own’ land & houses, she had no say what could be done with them. She could neither rent, sell, nor order repairs. Only her husband could do so.
Simply put, she had no further say in her wealth, because she was legally seen as a femme covert to her husband and not seen as a legal entity allowed to possess property. There were ONLY two ways a woman could be considered a legal entity with control over her own life and money. A) She never marries anyone. B) Her husband dies and she never remarries.
In either of these cases she would be considered a ‘femme sole’ in the eyes of the law and could make all decisions concerning her property.
Since society pushed young women to marry, most lost the first option before they even knew such an option existed. A great deal of ladies would marry the man their father chose. And not all husbands were the charming fellows in our romance books. To protect a beloved daughter, a father would sometimes ensure the fiancé sign a pre-nuptial document returning the property to her name, but for most women, they lost all rights. For example, had Jane Austen married, her rights to all her books would have transferred to her husband. For authors, our stories are like children we’ve nurtured and grown. I can completely understand why she would remain single, rather than lose all her book children.
Given the loss of rights and property when a woman married, it’s no wonder why arsenic became such a popular poison in the late Victorian era. It’s tasteless and odorless, and if fed in small portions in the husband’s food, could slowly kill him without anyone discovering the truth, for arsenic was quite prevalent in manufactured goods at that time and a slow poisoning could be mistaken for accidental poisoning.
Finally, in 1882, wives legal identities were restored, allowing them to retain the property they owned. Not surprisingly, a great deal of men didn’t like this, and sought ways around the new law. One way was to lock one’s wife away in a room, declaring it necessary to assure the husband of his conjugal rights, and while she remained confined, he could do whatever he wished with her property.
This actually happened, and my proof is that in 1891 the Court of Appeals finally ruled a man could not confine his wife in order to enforce his conjugal rights.
So did these scoundrel husbands throw their hands up and say, “I give up. You get to make your own decisions now.” I seriously doubt it. They simply found other reasons to confine a wife.
Which is why in book 2.5 Alice’s mother gets tossed into Bedlam where the guards were paid not to feed her. And the problem continues in book 4.
The great Victorian sleuth Xavier Thorn and his partner Vic Hamilton take a case close to home. Their youngest staff member, L’il Pete, discovers his mother murdered in the alley. Jacko is called up from the country to assist in solving the crime. The good woman’s murder proves to be tangled up with a much larger and shocking list of crimes perpetrated by a powerful man who may truly be above the law. Making matters more complex: Vic discovers her recent weight gain may be the result of a condition that could destroy her life and everything she loves.
“Margaret. You cannot go home to the man who put you in an asylum.”
The old woman’s eyes turned glassy. “I don’t understand why he did that. I would never tell a soul what I discovered. I am his faithful wife.”
Vic was tempted to turn the carriage around and take the old bat back to Bedlam. After all their effort, she wasn’t even going to cooperate? “Well, at least we saved the wolfman, so our night was not a complete waste.”
“How dare you!” Lady Thurman snapped.
“No, ma’am, how dare you!” Vic yelled in return. “Your husband is part of a criminal ring that helps husbands get rid of wives while keeping their property. Yet, even after he has sent you to hell, you still protect him so other women will be placed in Bedlam and die.”
When no one came to her rescue, the old woman burst into tears. “It is horrible, I know…and then to blackmail the gentlemen afterwards…I could hardly believe it was my Mr. Thurman. I went to him, confessed I had found the papers while scrubbing off the old wax on the cherry cabinet. I wanted him to tell me it was all a misunderstanding and his letters meant something else altogether.”
Lady Meridan took pity on her and provided her a handkerchief. After five minutes of the woman snorting into the cloth, Xavier lost patience.
“And did he?”
With another minute of sniffles, she finally replied. “No. He just kissed me on my forehead and said he would miss me. I thought he meant to kill himself so I begged him to reconsider. God would forgive him for those minor sins, but not suicide.” She paused. “He promised he had no intention of taking his life, not when he was so close to being First Minister. Then he told me to go upstairs and sleep. He would make this problem go away.”
Vic finished the old woman’s story. “And you woke up with a very nasty headache in Bedlam.”
Well Kept Secrets
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Liza O’Connor was raised badly by feral cats, left the South/Midwest and wandered off to find nicer people on the east coast. There she worked for the meanest man on Wall Street, while her psychotic husband tried to kill her three times. (So much for finding nicer people.) Then one day she declared enough, got a better job, divorced her husband, and fell in love with her new life where people behaved normally. But all those bad behaviors have given her lots of fodder for her humorous romances. Please buy these books, because otherwise, she’ll become grumpy and write troubled novels instead. They will likely traumatize you.
You have been warned.
Mostly humorous books by Liza:
Ghost Lover—Two British brothers fall in love with the same young woman. Ancestral ghost is called in to fix the situation. And there’s a ghost cat that roams about the book as well. (Humorous Contemporary Romance)
Untamed & Unabashed—The youngest of the Bennet sisters, Lydia, tells her story. A faithful spinoff from Pride & Prejudice.
A Long Road to Love Series: (Humorous Contemporary odd Romance)
Worst Week Ever — Laugh out loud week of disasters of Epic proportions.
Oh Stupid Heart — The heart wants what it wants, even if it’s impossible.
Coming to Reason — There is a breaking point when even a saint comes to reason.
Climbing out of Hell — The reconstruction of a terrible man into a great one.
The Adventures of Xavier & Vic Sleuth series: (Late Victorian/Mystery/Romance)
The Troublesome Apprentice — The greatest sleuth in Victorian England hires a young man who turns out to be a young woman.
The Missing Partner — Opps! The greatest sleuth in Victorian England goes missing, leaving Vic to rescue him, a suffragette, and about 100 servants. Not to mention an eviscerating cat. Yes, let’s not mention the cat.
A Right to Love — A romantic detour for Jacko. Want to see how amply rewarded Jacko was when he & Vic save an old woman from Bedlam?
The Mesmerist — The Mesmerist can control people from afar and make them murder for her. Worse yet, Xavier Thorn has fallen under her spell.
Well Kept Secrets — L’il Pete’s mum is murdered, and discovering who & why reveals a great many secrets.
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