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Vol 21 No 11 Nov/Dec 2016

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Broken Engagements: The Action for Breach of Promise of Marriage and the Feminine Ideal, 1800-1940


ISBN13: 9780199569977
Published: February 2010
Publisher: Oxford University Press
Country of Publication: UK
Format: Hardback
Price: £73.00



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The common law action for breach of promise of marriage originated in the mid-seventeenth century, but it was not until the nineteenth century that it rose to prominence and became a regular feature in law courts and gossip columns. By 1940 the action was defunct, it was inconceivable for a respectable woman to bring such a case before the courts. What accounts for this dramatic rise and fall?

This book ties the story of the action's prominence and decline between 1800 and 1940 to changes in the prevalent conception of woman, her ideal role in society, sexual relations, and the family. It argues that the idiosyncratic breach-of-promise suit and Victorian notions of ideal femininity were inextricably, and fatally, entwined.

It presents the nineteenth-century breach-of-promise action as a codification of the Victorian ideal of true womanhood and explores the longer-term implications of this infusion of mythologized femininity for the law, in particular for the position of plaintiffs.

Surveying three consecutive time periods - the early nineteenth century, the high Victorian and the post-Victorian periods - and adopting an interdisciplinary approach that combines the perspectives of legal history, social history, and literary analysis, it argues that the feminizing process, by shaping a cause of action in accordance with an ideal at odds with the very notion of women going to law, imported a fatal structural inconsistency that at first remained obscured, but ultimately vulgarized and undid the cause of action.

Alongside more than two hundred and fifty real-life breach-of-promise cases, the book examines literary and cinematic renditions of the breach-of-promise theme, by artists ranging from Charles Dickens to P.G. Wodehouse, to expose the subtle yet unmistakable ways in which what happened (and what changed) in the breach-of-promise courtroom influenced the changing representation of the breach-of-promise plaintiff in nineteenth- and early twentieth-century literature and film.

Subjects:
Legal History
Contents:
Introduction
Situating the Project: Law, Cultural Ideology, and Nineteenth-Century Women's History
Tools of Analysis: Empiricism and Literature
I: Codifying Womanhood: The Nineteenth-Century Action for Breach of Promise of Marriage as the Legal Expression of the Victorian Feminine Ideal
II: Structural Inconsistency: The True Woman and the Breach-of-Promise Plaintiff
III: Breach of Promise in the Early Nineteenth Century (1820-1850): Strategies of Containment, a Created Inconsistency, and the Aesthetic of the Grotesque
IV: Breach of Promise in the High Victorian Period (1850-1900): The Inconsistency Unveiled, Pinchbeck Angels, and the Dominance of Satire
V: Breach of Promise in the Post-Victorian Period (1900-1940): A Changing Ideal, the Action>'s Decline, and the Symbolism of Breach of Promise
VI: Epilogue: The Power of the Image
Bibliography;

Series: Oxford Studies in Modern Legal History

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A History of Water Rights at Common Law ISBN 9780199207602
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A Jurisprudence of Power: Victorian Empire and the Rule of Law ISBN 9780198260769
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The Origins of Adversary Criminal Trial
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ISBN 9780199287239
Published September 2005
Oxford University Press
£33.99
The Origins of Adversary Criminal Trial (eBook)
John H. LangbeinSterling Professor of Law and Legal History, Yale University, USA
ISBN 9780191024498
Published September 2005
Oxford University Press
£28.32 + £5.66 VAT
(ePub)
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A History of Water Rights at Common Law
Joshua GetzlerFellow in Law, St Hugh's College, Oxford and Lecturer, University of Oxford
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Frederick Pollock and the English Juristic Tradition ISBN 9780199270224
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The Origins of Adversary Criminal Trial
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Published June 2003
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Private Property and Abuse of Rights in Victorian England ISBN 9780199256877
Published May 2003
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Advocacy and the Making of the Adversarial Criminal Trial 1800-1865 ISBN 9780198262848
Published July 1999
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