Angels, whores, and wives for sale.

While researching for my novel, Leap the Wild Water, I was shocked by the extent to which women in the 19th century were suppressed in all spheres of their lives, and the appalling double standards they were subject to. Generally, women were seen as either angels or whores, depending on their virginal status at marriage.

Women were generally regarded as the property of men. In 1824, a woman called Lydia Jones was produced for sale with a halter around her waist. In 1815, William Jones, a 79 year old pauper of Llanwrst, sold his wife for 3 farthings having been married for only 3 weeks; as late as 1863, a man in Merthyr Tydfil sold his wife to a fellow workman for the grand sum of £3. Not until 1870 were women allowed to inherit property without it passing immediately to their husbands.

Unmarried mothers, like Megan in Leap the Wild Water, suffered worst of all. They were publicly shamed and such was the trauma of this that many abandoned or killed their babies rather than suffer it. Up to 1834, the parish poor law authority would prosecute men for maintenance of the children of unmarried mothers. Then this law was changed so that the Poor Law Unions would start proceedings on behalf of an unmarried mother, only if she could ‘provide corroborative evidence of paternity’ – a practical impossibility, sex being a very private activity, and given the shame and approbation heaped upon a woman’s head were she to admit to engaging in sex before marriage – she would hardly be likely to do so publicly!  Such was the farcical nature of laws made by men in relation to women. The Poor Law Royal Commission was responsible for this change and it  was brought about to protect ‘ eligible but innocent bachelors and accused men of being coerced into unwanted marriages’.

The Bishop of Exeter warned against such a change in the law as he feared that it would lead to a great increase in numbers of babies being left at the workhouse doors. He said; ‘You will harden the heart of man and increase his selfishness to an intensity of which we have never yet believed him capable’. Similar sentiments were expressed by the Times newspaper and the poet, Coleridge. In 1864, John Brownlow expressed sympathy for these ‘basically decent girls’ who were seduced by promises of marriage, and spoke of how they were humiliated in open courts in front of a gawping male audience. Few were this sympathetic to the plight of these abandoned young women. To the puritanical chaplain in the New Forest, Rev. Herbert Smith, all unmarried mothers were ‘fornicators and adulterers’ and their children deemed ‘offspring of sin and profligacy’.

It was a brave young woman, indeed, who would make any attempt at obtaining justice. An example of the treatment women received in court is that of Agnes Roberts. In court, she said she had attempted suicide by throwing herself in the Llanelli dock, after being abandoned by the father of her unborn child. Thomas Ludford, the defence lawyer asked if she referred to the new dock, adding, ‘it has no water in it yet’. This was met with laughter from the all male audience and her case failed.  There was also the case of John Lewis, who in 1900 was up for three charges of rape against a 14 year old girl in the dock district of Llanelli. Judge Bingham threw the case out of court, claiming it was ‘ a trumpery of a case’ and that the girl in question had suffered ‘nothing more’ than an indecent assault.  He went on to say that such cases were scandalous – because they gave that part of the world a bad reputation!

Given the age of consent at the time, many of these young women so cruelly treated were no more than girls. The age of consent in Western countries during the mid-19th century was between 10 and 13 years old. In Britain, it was raised to the upper limit of 13 years in 1868 following a long campaign by William Thomas Charley, barrister and MP for Salford. He had campaigned for it to be raised to 21. Not until the end of the 19th century was it raised to 16.

Seventy-five percent of births in workhouses were illegitimate – being pregnant and unmarried meant absolute poverty for a woman. Turned out by their families, and shunned by their communities, many were forced to abandon their babies on workhouse or church steps rather than see their babies starve. The insanitary conditions of the workhouses were such that most of these babies died, anyway, of disease. In a society where women were regarded as the evil seductresses of men, it made no difference if a woman’s pregnancy was the result of rape – she was likely to be seen as having brought it on herself, and the man involved viewed as having been provoked.

In recent years, I’ve heard similar arguments brought against women who have been raped while intoxicated by drink. It seems to me that we’ve come a long way; we’re no longer chattels and we are able to be financially independent, but to what extent do sexual double standards still prevail?

Jenny Lloyd is the Welsh author of The Megan Jones trilogy, historical suspense novels set in early, 19th century, rural Wales.

Leap the Wild Water new book cover meadow     The Calling of the Raven updated book cover     Anywhere the Wind Blows Book Cover - jpg

You can read about the books or purchase them by clicking on the links below.

Leap the Wild Water: http://ow.ly/jEoi302jXkd

The Calling of the Raven: http://ow.ly/4uRO302jXmd

Anywhere the Wind Blows: http://ow.ly/i1sy302jXXK

You can also follow the author:

Twitter; https://twitter.com/jennyoldhouse

Facebook; https://www.facebook.com/jennylloydauthor

Pinterest; http://www.pinterest.com/jennyoldhouse

 

Resources and interesting further reading on the subject of this blog;

Secret Sins by Russell Davies.

Hope and Heartbreak by Russell Davies.

Massacre of the Innocents by Lionel Rose.

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What would you do if you had to walk in this man’s shoes?

Like most writers, I am fascinated by what makes people tick. If you have read my novel, Leap the Wild Water, you will know Morgan is one of its central characters. He is trying and failing to do what is right, and living with the consequences of having acted against his own conscience. He knows he has done his sister a great wrong and the consequences of that wrong are on-going. Yet, it is only following the death of his mother that he comes to fully realise the enormity of what he has done. Before his mother’s death he did not have to take responsibility for the consequences of his actions; he could tell himself that he was powerless against his mother’s authority. When she dies, he can no longer shift blame and responsibility onto her and is robbed of a means by which he can absolve himself. Only then, too late, does he decide he must make amends.

There have been many studies investigating the reasons why people act against their consciences and do terrible things. Most of these studies took place in the 1960’s in an attempt to try to understand how the atrocities of the holocaust of WW2 could have happened. One of the best known studies is the experiment done by Stanley Milgram, who set out to prove that anyone is capable of obeying orders to harm others under certain circumstances. He found people were most likely to obey orders if the person issuing the order had legitimate authority, and if the person obeying the order would not be held responsible for the consequences. A person wishing to disobey was more likely to do so if there were others supporting him.

Those who obey orders to inflict harm on others, as Morgan did to his sister Megan, will seek to justify their actions. Lerner(1980) claimed that people need to believe the world is just and fair and everyone gets what they deserve. Lerner called this the ‘just world hypothesis’. This is what Morgan does; after doing what his mother asks of him, he shifts blame onto his sister Megan, tells her and himself that it is Megan’s own fault that he has done what he has; that she has brought it all on herself by going against convention.

Prior to doing his Mam’s bidding, Morgan saw himself as a good, kind and decent man. Afterwards, he finds it hard to live with himself. Festinger (1957) called this internal conflict ‘cognitive dissonance’; this happens when a person’s actions contradict their personal beliefs about themselves and their feelings about what is right and wrong. In Milgram’s experiment, many of the participants experienced cognitive dissonance and dealt with this internal conflict by derogating their victims, just as Morgan did in order to preserve his self-esteem.

From the moment Morgan’s mother attempts to draw him into her plans, all the odds are against Morgan acting according to his own conscience. His mother exploits her authority over him; when asking him to do what he cannot bear to, she calls him ‘boy’. She fuels his anger at his sister’s betrayal, uses this to her advantage, and encourages him to believe it is his sister who is to blame for what they are ‘forced’ to do; thus giving Morgan a ‘hook on which he gladly hangs his own guilt’.

By the time Morgan realises his moral failings it is too late, and  any attempts to right the wrong will only further harm his sister. Knowing this, he procrastinates until an escalation in events forces his hand, with catastrophic results.

It would be far too simplistic to think of Morgan as a weak man unable to stand up to his own mother. The shocking truth which Stanley Milgram offered the world was that it is not only the weak or the morally corrupt who can be led to commit cruel acts against others, but people like you and me, and Morgan, otherwise kind and decent human beings.

Few of us are forced to choose between two people we love. Morgan chooses his mother over the sister who has lied to him and betrayed his trust. His decision was greatly influenced by his anger at his sister.What do you think you would have done in Morgan’s shoes?  Do you feel compassion or contempt for him and his dilemma? Many who have read Leap the Wild Water tell me they begin by feeling contempt for him but end with feeling compassion, which is what I hoped.

Jenny Lloyd is the Welsh author of The Megan Jones trilogy; historical suspense novels set in early, 19th century, rural Wales.

Leap the Wild Water new book cover meadow     The Calling of the Raven updated book cover     Anywhere the Wind Blows Book Cover - jpg

You can read about the books or purchase them by clicking on the links below.

Leap the Wild Water: http://ow.ly/jEoi302jXkd

The Calling of the Raven: http://ow.ly/4uRO302jXmd

Anywhere the Wind Blows: http://ow.ly/73tq302Ov71

You can also follow the author:

Twitter; https://twitter.com/jennyoldhouse

Facebook; https://www.facebook.com/jennylloydauthor

Pinterest; http://www.pinterest.com/jennyoldhouse