"Villainy Detected!" Crime and Consequences in Britain and America in the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries
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Trials for adultery, or, The history of divorces [Volume 3]

Trials for Adultery

Jan S. Fergus
Professor of English
Lehigh University

During the eighteenth century, divorce was very difficult to arrange. Men of means could divorce their wives on grounds of adultery (women couldn't divorce husbands on those grounds though under some circumstances they could get a separation) but it was an expensive process–generally restricted to the wealthy–and required trials in which witnesses proved that adultery took place. Unofficial printed reports of these trials thus had some of the same appeal that gossip about celebrities' sex lives has now. Digests of some notorious trials appeared in a popular magazine called the Town and Country from its inception in 1769, and customers who wanted more details could subscribe to receive trial reports monthly. Lehigh's copy of the 1779 collection of Trials for Adultery binds together a number of such reports. One of the most interesting in the collection is the trial of Ann Skinn: shortly after her trial she published a novel, The Old Maid, or the History of Miss Ravensworth (1771), which pilloried her husband, showed more compassion to women guilty of unchastity than usual in the eighteenth-century novel, and presented a spunky heroine who is caustic on the topic of marriage.

Title: Trials for adultery, or, The history of divorces [Volume 3]
Description: Trials for adultery, or, The history of divorces [Volume 3] : Being select trials at Doctors Commons, for adultery, fornication, cruelty, impotence, &c. from the year 1760, to the present time, including the whole of the evidence on each cause : together with the letters &c. that have been intercepted between the amorous parties / taken in short-hand by a civilian.
Type: Book
Publisher: London: S. Bladon.
Date: 1779 - 1780
 

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