Tuesday, 21 July 2015

Thrice Accursed Law - The Law of Divorce (1861) by a 'Graduate of Oxford'

The real name of the ‘Graduate of Oxford’ is not known. Perhaps the author wishes to present himself as an educated member of the establishment. John Ruskin (1819-1900) published his first major work Modern Painters (1843) under the same pseudonym. Ruskin’s unhappy marriage was annulled in July 1854, but it is hardly plausible to suggest that this event would have encouraged our ‘Graduate’ to choose his pseudonym for his tale of divorce. There are a number of works by a ‘Graduate of Oxford’ in the catalogue of the National Library of Scotland, including one from 1851 entitled Caution against Convents, of Vital Importance to Ladies Who Dread a Gloomy and Miserable Life. It is impossible to say whether our ‘Graduate’ was the author of any of the other works published under the same pseudonym. The Law of Divorce: a Tale seems to be the only novel among them.

Roland Elsmere is “a man of good fortune and family who, at an early age had married a very young and beautiful and fascinating girl. With naturally good dispositions, she united the misfortune of a neglected moral education.” (The Law of Divorce, Chapter 1) The young couple, Roland and Harriet were happy; “They were like children – adult children – together.” (Ibid.) They lived in the country and had two children of their own. But as the “neglected moral education” of Harriet warns us, the happiness was not to last. While Roland is in Vienna on business, he receives a letter informing him that Harriett has eloped with one of his best friends – a Cambridge chum with whom Roland had travelled “a pedestrian tour through Sweden.” (Ibid.) Roland feels vindictive, he decides “to sue for a divorce, get his marriage with his false Harriet annulled, and them marry anew.” (Ibid.) The divorce is easily obtained (“the infidelity of Mrs Elsmere was easily proved.” [Ibid.]), and within two, still with a sense of revenge, Roland marries Catherine Dashton in Paris. “She was rich, handsome, and cold-hearted, and brought him nothing but increase of sorrow.” (Ibid.) A fortnight later, while they are still on their honeymoon a letter arrives from Harriet: