chapter  8
26 Pages

EXPERT EVIDENCE, INSANITY, NULLITY – MEDICO-LEGAL STORIES OF FEMALE INSANITY: THREE NULLITY SUITS

The article produced in this chapter ‘grew’ from the preceding study of the law in Jude the Obscure. In sifting through the late 19th century cases relating to marriage law, the three cases that follow in this chapter served not only to illustrate a broad context of discourses concerning women, marriage and subjection in relation to Jude, but also presented themselves as richly deserving of separate attention in their own right.1 Rich in the terrific untold drama playing out in each case, they seemed forlorn in having tales of such personal tragedy embedded within the formalities of evidence and doctrine, demanding to be resurrected and permitted a different hearing for their plight. Such is the context to these Victorian cases – recorded as mere examples of the doctrine of nullity of marriage – but actually revealing, despite rhetorics of sincerity and sympathy, disturbing prejudices in judicial and medical mores. Here are real tragedies in the lives scrutinised, with secret ‘inner’ lives whose silencing by the prevailing culture only served to enhance the tragic turn. Blinking in the light of day, these figures insisted upon a new telling of their stories, a new reading of their cases. In so doing, the cases provide a snapshot in the history of evidence and medical pathologies, denoting the cultural drives, still relevant today, in the detection of illness.2 Current events and scholarship maintain several topical links of direct relevance to these cases. First, psychiatry continues to operate within a regime of unfolding new pathologies, though sometimes with a broad sensibility of the tension between those aspects of illness which may be ‘scientifically’ or ‘biologically’ corroborated, and alterations in social and medical cultures that ‘feed’ certain evaluations over others. Secondly, this phenomenon presents particular difficulties for the law, since psychiatric evaluations impinge upon so many principles of central importance to the law – of capacity, competence, responsibility and so on. Thirdly,

1 At an early stage in the experience of producing scholarship, this event served to demonstrate the extent to which research and scholarship had, and has, a ‘life of its own’ such that three cases of apparently peripheral relevance to an initial study insist upon a swerve of attention. Such experience is heady. The cases were exciting as well as poignant – down the years they had received virtually no academic attention, emerging from the Victorian reports as a rich, yet forlorn and neglected, ‘archival’ phenomenon.