“Ink Stands and Law Books”: Domestic and Legal Violence

  • Randall Craig


The honeymoon ended quickly (literally and figuratively) for the Nortons, who were married on June 30, 1827. The couple returned to London after a brief wedding trip and spent a few days in George’s chambers at the Temple before moving into their own apartment. While there, George, reportedly under the influence of drink, hurled an “ink stand, and most of the law-books, which might have served a better purpose, at the head of his bride” (ELW 15). He could scarcely have chosen more appropriately symbolic objects, for the pen—hers, not his-became a primary point of conflict between them and the law became the principal means by which he attempted to accomplish what physical violence could not: suppression of his wife’s independent spirit and spirited language. When the tailor in Daniel Deronda remarks that a “quarrel may end wi’ the whip, but it begins wi’ the tongue, and it’s the women have got the most o’ that” (DD 401), he succinctly diagnoses the origin of the Nortons’ troubles. Sarcasm at her husband’s expense—in this instance, to the effect that he might make better use of the instruments of his profession—was the weapon that Norton most often employed against the man whose violence did not end with these errant missiles. Unequal to the “javelins hurled by an Amazon,” George on another occasion doused her writing materials with brandy and set them afire, warning her “not to brave him” in the future (ELW 32).


Married Woman Spousal Violence Symbolic Object Legal Violence Moral Absolutism 
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  1. 1.
    George Eliot, Daniel Deronda (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1995), 353.Google Scholar
  2. 4.
    Chase and Levenson call Lionel a “transparent counterpart to her husband.” Karen Chase and Michael Levenson, The Spectacle of Intimacy: A Public Life for the Victorian Family (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2000), 31. Melbourne himself saw something of George in Lionel (ELW 69–70).Google Scholar
  3. 7.
    Maeve E. Doggett, Marriage, Wife-Beating and the Law in Victorian England (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1992), 35.Google Scholar
  4. 12.
    Kate Lawson and Lynn Shakinovsky, The Marked Body: Domestic Violence in Mid-Nineteenth-Century Literature (Albany: SUNY Press, 2002), 16. For a discussion of divorce court journalism, see Leckie, 62–111.Google Scholar

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© Randall Craig 2009

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  • Randall Craig

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