chapter
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CONCLUSION

CONCLUSION The erosion of patriarchal power in marriage charted in this book was riddled with contradictions and far from complete. Perhaps the most ironic feature of the process was the frequent prescription, by so many observant critics, of a cure for its excesses by male domestication and greater companionate forbearance within an unaltered framework of patriarchal authority and female submission. This seems tantamount to the practice of homoeopathic medicine, by dosing the patient with a concentrate of the toxin that is already causing the damage. The inherent paradox need not be belaboured, since so many critics, and not least judges of the Divorce Court, deliberately framed their remedies to ensure the survival of patriarchal power rather than its weakening. Moreover, the strategy of preserving authority by making it more palatable was a familial extension of the eighteenth-century ‘Lockean paradigm’ on parent-child relations, which, according to Jay Fliegelman, sought ‘to make authority and liberty compatible, to find a surer ground for obligation and obedience than “fear of the rod”’.1 By the end of the nineteenth century the same ambiguous approach to husbands’ power remained dominant, but the scepticism and radical alternative proposals which had surfaced in the 1850s posed a more intense and public challenge. The routine exposure of men’s marital behaviour to public scrutiny and regulation in itself constituted a check on their power over their wives, but still remained subject to challenge and ideological backlash against women’s assertion of rights, in public or private. For all its profound importance, the change embodied in this increasingly critical discourse, like most change hingeing on tentative shifts in mentalities and deeply embedded ideologies, was intermittent and subject to reversal.