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played old Gooseberry

"Playing gooseberry" often meant acting as a fifth wheel or an undesired third party, spoiling a tête-à-tête between two lovers. However, here Bounderby is using it an a less familiar sense, simply to mean "to make havoc." Nevertheless, the connotations of spoiling a love affair may hint at one element of Mrs. Blackpool's bad behavior: her adultery, also noted in Bounderby's assertion that she "found other companions"—a phrase that appeared in the version of the novel that appeared in Household Words but was struck from the first bound edition, possibly because of its hints of indelicacy.

Lancashire dialect for "bridge"

Lancashire dialect for "trifles."

I ha' coom to ask yo, sir, how I am to be ridded o' this woman.

At the time Dickens wrote, there were two types of divorce: divorce a vinculo matrimonii (from the bond of marriage), which enabled divorcees to marry again, and divorce a mensa et thoro (from bed and board), which was in effect a legal separation. Church courts could grant the latter type, but a divorce a vinculo matrimonii could only be granted by an Act of Parliament—obviously, a costly proposition, and one involving a great deal of special influence.

However, the laws relating to divorce in England were undergoing reform even as Dickens wrote. In 1850, a royal commission was appointed to consider the laws of divorce; in 1853, the commission recommended that divorce cases be transferred from church courts to civil courts, and that these new courts be empowered to grant both types of divorces. Divorces a vinculo matrimonii were to be granted in cases of adultery, if the husband was suing; if the wife sought the divorce, she needed to show evidence of "aggravated enormity": that is, incest or bigamy on the husband's part. Divorces a mensa et thoro could be granted in cases of adultery, cruelty, or desertion. A bill based on these recommendations was introduced in Parliament during the serialization of Hard Times, but did not reach a vote. In 1857, the Matrimonial Causes Act was passed implementing these changes.

Spite o' all that, they can be set free for smaller wrongs than is suffered by hundreds an' hundreds of us—by women fur more than men—they can be set free for smaller wrongs.

The portion of this passage that follows the phrase "they can be set free for smaller wrongs" is unique to the Household Words edition of Hard Times; it was changed in the first volume edition. Some of the more pointed and topical mentions of divorce in the Household Words text relate specifically to the article "One of Our Legal Fictions," which appeared the week before this number of Hard Times and which discussed some of the injustices to women in particular that were inherent in the laws concerning marriage and divorce at the time. A second reference to the injustices to women in divorce law comes a short time later in the chapter, when Stephen says that the inability to get a divorce "brings many common married fok (agen I say, women fur of'ener than men) to battle, murder, and sudden death." The parenthetical aside is unique to the text in Household Words.

Doctors' Commons

The popular collective name for the canon-law courts in London that had jurisdiction over matrimonial cases. Dickens worked as a shorthand writer in Doctors' Commons from 1830 to 1832. Doctors' Commons was dissolved in 1857, when the Divorce Act transferred authority over such cases to new civil courts.

By Parliamentary

That is, by the cheapest form of rail travel,"Parliamentary" railroad; an 1844 Act of Parliament required all railways to run a daily passenger train at a rate not exceeding a penny per mile.



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