Discovering Dickens - A Community Reading Project

 Discovering Dickens

 Hard Times



 Historical Glossary


 Household Words


 Biographical Context


 Historical Context

 Archived Novels







One of Our Legal Fictions

"One of Our Legal Fictions" appeared in the April 29, 1854, issue of Household Words. This impassioned piece discusses the plight of an unhappily married woman, abused by her husband and separated from her children, yet with no legal recourse to protect herself. The article, by Eliza Lynn, is based on the celebrated case of Caroline Norton, who separated from her husband in 1836. Norton herself wrote numerous pamphlets urging changes in the laws relating to divorce, married women's property, and custody of children, and her campaign was at least partially responsible for several changes in the law.

Although the situation is clearly quite different from that depicted in Hard Times, the article's discussion of marriage laws and the difficulties of obtaining a divorce or legal separation shed some light on Stephen Blackpool's marital situation. Dickens uses Stephen as a mouthpiece for a denunciation of the then-current laws of divorce. Moreover, in the Household Words text Dickens includes asides about the disadvantages suffered by women under the laws of the time—asides that clearly resonate with this article and that were omitted from the text of the first volume edition.

Download the articleDownload pdf 1

Copyright © 2005 Stanford University. All rights reserved. Stanford, CA 94305, (650)723-2300. Terms of Use