Mapmaking was not always about faithful geographic reproduction. It could be about plain amusement too. A popular subject matter for spoof cartography in the 19th century was marriage, and this ‘map’, A new map of the land of matrimony, from the latest survey, is characteristic of the genre. Though a very English concept, similar examples are found all over Europe. Various emotional situations are represented by mock locations in the style of real maps of the time: ‘Divorce Island. Variation of the compass observed here’.
The drawing-room novelty allowed readers to enjoy a light-hearted view of a serious matter in 19th century Britain. As the map suggests, divorce in the early 1800s was indeed isolating, with no easy way out. Socially taboo, it was also expensive, inevitably involving loss of wealth and status. The only justification was adultery, though men had far more latitude. A wife had additionally to prove ‘incest, bigamy, or excessive cruelty’. A man’s primary duty was to care for and financially support the family, so infidelity did not preclude this; a woman, however, whose duty was to love and obey her husband, was failing her duty if she was unfaithful.
Law changes made divorce easier in the mid-1800s, but those trapped in unhappy marriages typically stayed put. Even the wittiest map must have offered scant consolation.