Jennifer Malloy, p. 2.

Punch, 34 (June 5, 1858):232


he mid-nineteenth century campaign for reform of the Divorce Laws and the varied successes achieved by proponents of the cause are satirized in the cartoon "The Great Boon," appearing in 1858,Punch Volume 34. Nearly eight years before the first petition for female suffrage was presented to Parliament, John Leech portrays easier divorce, ("the great boon" for women), as counter-effective and undesirable from the female perspective. The act of divorce which feminist advocate John Stuart Mill claims is "the least concession in a system where 'a woman is denied any lot in life but that of being the personal body-servant of a despot,'" does not seem to please 'Superior Being's' wife who is visibly shedding tears as she holds her head in her hands. Leech sarcastically comments on the position in which women now find themselves. Fighting to ease the divorce process and regulation in order to relieve themselves of poor domestic situations may not be such a "great boon" after all, because the divorce law has made divorce suits brought by husbands increasingly facile. While John Leech might smirk, the reader should ask whether the greater readiness of Victorian divorce creates a less painful situation? While the woman in Leech's cartoon may not be sorry to be rid of spousal company, divorce in the Victorian era carries with it greater ramifications. As Baron Bramwell asserts: "A mother's rights over her children are nil." Legally she is devoid of any claim to her children even in the event of her husband's death within the confines of marriage, (excepting a guardianship deemed acceptable by her husband's last will and testament); if the circumstances of separation are hostile, the mother loses custodial rights and remains at her ex-husband's mercy with reference to visitation rights and religious upbringing.

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[Victorian initial "T" by Harlan Wallach ©copyright 1994.]