chapter
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THE ADAPTATION OF PATRIARCHY IN

The impression of domestic tyranny which emerges from the Divorce Court, necessarily based on some of the hardest known cases, is a severe and no doubt unrepresentative one. It would be a simple enough task to select an equally impressive and untypical list of Victorian ‘happy marriages’ to contradict the striking examples of patriarchal rigidity and female resistance we have seen.1 At the same time it should be acknowledged that the more rigid patriarchal characterization of English husbands, especially, was common by the middle of the century. Harriet Beecher Stowe was one foreign observer who found Englishmen quite unlike their American counterparts in their insistence on obedience. Writing for an American audience about the management of conjugal tensions she contrasted American views (and particularly her own) with those of England:

Read Mrs Ellis’s Wives of England and you have one solution of the problem. The good women of England are there informed that there is to be no discussion, that everything in the ménage is to follow the rule of the lord, and that the wife has but one hope, namely, that grace may be given to him to know exactly what his own will is. ‘L’état c’est moi’, is the lesson which every English husband learns of Mrs Ellis, and we should judge from the pictures of English novels that this ‘awful right divine’ is insisted on in detail in domestic life.2