Lawrence Stone's trilogy on marriage in early modern England has been widely praised. The New York Times Book Review hailed the first volume, Road to Divorce as "sure-footed and fascinating commentary" and chose it as a Notable Book of 1990. Christopher Hibbert in the Independent found that the "absorbing and often extraordinary" stories in volume two, Uncertain Unions "throw a clear, bright light not only upon the making and breaking of marriages in the late 17th and early 18th centuries, but also on social customs and the intimacies of private lives." Now, in Broken Lives, the third and final book, Stone sets out to examine the various ways people ended marriages and the lengths to which they would go to do so.
Drawing from a massive archive of court cases, Stone presents stories that paint a revealing portrait of divorce in the period before 1857. Divorce could only be obtained by Act of Parliament, and often at great expense and with much difficulty. As Stone writes, however extreme the circumstances, the legal breaking of a marriage on the grounds of cruelty was not easy to obtain in seventeenth-century England. For instance, in Boteler v. Boteler, Anne Boteler, wife of Sir Oliver Boteler, had overwhelming evidence of her husband's abuse (which included death threats and physical attacks on Anne and her children). Yet even though Sir Oliver's own relatives testified against him, it took Anne three years to obtain a legal separation. Of course, in some instances, the wife had the upperhand. In Lovedon v. Lovedon, we see an instance in which a wife could repeatedly appeal her husband's suit for divorce at his expense. By law, Edward Lovedon was obliged to pay all of his wife Anne's bills until they were officially divorced. And in Beaufort v. Beaufort we learn that women would often successfully countersue their husbands for divorce on the grounds of impotence--in those days, it was more than likely that a man would fail the public test he underwent to prove his virility. Other cases reveal intriguing and often spiteful aspects of marital breakdown: servants blackmailing their adulterous masters and mistresses; and husbands suing their wives' lovers for property damage (i.e. to the wives' bodies).
One of the world's leading authorities on the history of the family, Lawrence Stone has mapped the arduous routes which people took to break marriages--from private separation agreements to Parliamentary ruling. And as he does so, he provides a fascinating glimpse into daily life and marital conduct, and allows us to eavesdrop on the testimony and conversations of men and women of all sorts and conditions--from the serving girl to the served--in the changing social world of early modern England.
`12 fascinating case studies.
Gazette Telegraph, Oct 3, 1993
`"Broken Lives" completes the masterful trilogy Mr. Stone began with "Road to Divorce" and "Uncertain Unions," ... Most of the material comes from the archives of ecclesiastical courts ... The richness of these archives is astonishing ... In Mr Stone's lively retelling, many of the cases read like lurid bodice-rippers written by Daniella Defoe.
The Wall Street Journal, November 30, 1993
`my rasciest read of the year. ... and what makes it doubly rewarding is that it was written by a Princeton historian with a high moral and academic purpose.
Toronto Star, 4 October 1993
`He derives unconcealed enjoyment from the human comedy and he manages to transmit that enjoyment to the reader ... Stone is a superb narrator. His prose is lucid, vivid, and incisive, and he can achieve some richly comic effects ... Many readers will enjoy these books for the titillating pleasures they afford; others may be repelled by their coarseness, violence, and brutality. No one will be bored; and those seeking a colorful guide to the sexual
excapades of the Hanoverian aristocracy need look no further.
The New York Review
`a unique and vivid account of seething emotions above and below stairs. I cannot think of another book that has lit up a period of domestic history so brilliantly ... Lawrence Stone has tremendous elegance and authority, it has the compulsive qualities of a hot issue of the News of the World. There is no more fascinating way to study the fabric of a society than to see it unpicked. Compulsive reading
Susan Jeffries, Literary Review
`The great strengths of the book are Lawrence Stone's narrative skill and imaginative sensitivity to character and situation ... These are fascinating stories, most divertingly recounted.
Paul Langford, Sunday Telegraph
`Its purpose is serious, and superbly well accomplished. Stone describes 12 wretched marriages, and in doing so gives a comprehensive and intimate account of past lives ... a completely readable book ... This book is often painful, sometimes even disgusting to read ... includes much that is sordid and an equal amount that is pitiful, but it is consistently interesting and sometimes powerfully moving. This is social history at its best - precise, minutely
observant, familiar and astonishing.'
Lucy Hughes-Hallett, Sunday Times
`A fascinating collection of case studies of marital discord among the 17th and 18th century upper classes ... Broken Lives stands on its own, and might best be recommended not as an accompaniment to Stone's earlier tomes but as a follow-up moving backwards ... By the end of the book, the notion of just desserts seems far-fetched. then is the time to turn to the introduction, where Stone makes excellent sense of it all.
Andrew Adonis, Weekend Financial Times
`higher education is no bar to enjoyment of sexual scandal ... We all love lascivious lords and ladies, especially those whose matrimonial laundry is publicly washed in the courts and the press.
New Statesman and Society
`Broken Lives ... provides striking case studies to underpin his broader technical and theoretical account in Road to Divorce ... Stone's astonishing detail is due to the archaic legal procedure whereby ecclesiastical courts interrogated witnesses privately ... marvellously rich data and meticulous yet compassionate story-telling make the past startlingly present ... superb social history.
Jenny Uglow, The Independent on Sunday
`a solid academic study of divorce in England from Restoration to Victorian times - but the reviews found it a good read, too.
`Stone has obligingly cut through contradiction and repetition to create comprehensible, sometimes gripping narratives.'
`fascinating glimpse of marital strife among the very rich before the Divorce Act of 1857.
`Prof Stone is a crafty fellow and his latest work, Broken Lives: Separation and Divorce in England 1660-1857, is a masterly piece of deception. What, at first glance, might seem a worthy piece of social history is actually the racy read of the summer...Broken Lives is an accomplished piece of detective work.'
`a prime authority on the ups and downs of family life - downs rather than ups - in the period from Charles II to early Queen Victoria ... he is very thorough in his investigation
A.L. Rowse, The Times
`Stone is a masterly storyteller, and his real-life plots make Fielding's Clarissa look bland. Our understanding of the inner world of private people in the past is enormously enriched by Stone's acute sense of the implications of detail.
Christina Hardyment, The Independent
`Although Broken Lives is a serious book of British social history Prof Stone is quietly pleased that it has caught the public's imagination.
Jonathon Carr-Brown, Northern Echo
`it turns out to be as racy a read as you will find this summer ... Professor Stone has produced a book that offers an insight into many hitherto unknown aspects of marital life and breakdown in early modern England.
Jane Hall, The Journal
`without exception, beautifully written and fascinating to read, the product of meticulous research in the ecclesiastical archives
Times Higher Education Supplement
`This absorbing third volume of Stone's trilogy on marriage and separation has the rare appeal of casting a rosy glow over the present. Stone's prose is lively and lucid, and buoys up these grim and tangled tales.
The New Yorker, 1993
`This isn't one of those imagination-impaired treatises for legal scholars. There is something positively Chaucerian about this book, alive as it is with such basic human stuff as greed, lust, anger, revenge, knavery, boredom, gender bias, class snobbery and even, occasionally, love ... although it's part of a trilogy, it stands easily on its own.
Patrick T. Reardon, Chicago Tribune
`"Broken Lives" completes the masterful trilogy Mr. Stone began with "Road to Divorce" and "Uncertain Unions" ... The richness of these archives is astonishing. In Mr. Stone's lively retelling, many of the cases read like lurid bodice-rippers written by Daniel Defoe.
Manuela Hoelterhoff, Wall Street Journal - Europe
`This splendid volume brings Stone's trilogy to a sparkliong conclusion. Anyone concerned about the breakdown of the family should buy this excellent book.
`What an insight they provide into the truth behind those formal marriage portraits; what gusto they add to dry accounts of property disputes and divorce settlements!
`only someone of Stone's talent and experience, his skill as a director of research, could have extorted the information out of the divorce records now being penetrated for the first time ... the incidental information which the work contains ... is as valuable and interesting as the main burden of the book
Times Literary Supplement
`These stories, with their specal mixture of the comic, the tragic and the titillating, give Professor Stone maximum scope for the exercise of his considerable narrative powers. Stone's book teems with a multitude of skilfully drawn supporting characters. It is also a fund of fascinating information on a host of subjects besides marriage and the law. It will be essential reading for anybody interested in the life of servants in upper-class households.
Ralph Houlbrooke, History Today, August 1994
`very interesting and readable book ... Professor Stone is to be congratulated on a very interesting and useful book, which will, it is to be hoped, be followed by more, now that he has shown what good use can be made of the ecclesiastical court records.
S.M. Waddams, University of Toronto, The American Journal of Legal History, Vol. XXXVIII, 1994
`Lawrence Stone has made good use of the material available to him. He shows a real skill in his ability to transfer the indirect speech of formal court records into living vibrant English ... this book forms a sound basis for others working in this field to explore.
John Addy, University College of Ripon & York St. John, Social History Society Bulletin, Spring '94
`This is humane writing about lives that were actually lived. Individuals dominate these pages, not people determined by the categories of gender or class. As a result, it is a totally absorbing book.'
L.G. Mitchell, University College, Oxford, EHR Apr.96