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Thursday, 13 May 2010

Wild Romance

That got you reading! It's the title of a book by Chloe Schama about a lady called Theresa Longworth who met a guy called William Yelverton on a steamer travelling from France to England. They start writing to each other and eventually meet up again. After several years they go through an informal marriage service in Scotland and then a church service in Ireland. But were they really married? Theresa believed so but William eventually married someone else. Theresa attempted through court cases in Ireland and Scotland to get his subsequent marriage declared bigamous - without any real success. She spent the rest of her life travelling the world and writing about it and he disappeared into obscurity.

The first half of the book - the growth of the relationship and the trials - was fascinating reading but the second half almost seemed like padding. There wasn't really a whole book in this in my opinion though it could have been used as a jumping off point to examine the invidious legal position of women, and especially married women, in Victorian England. Married women weren't treated as individuals but as extensions of their husbands therefore it was virtually impossible for a wife to challenge her husband in a court of law. Theresa found herself damned if she did and damned if she didn't. She had to prove the marriage legal or risk damaging her reputation beyond repair.

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