Mona Caird (1854–1932) was a novelist who engaged with the women’s suffrage movement during the 1870s. From the mid-1880s onwards she wrote a number of novels which dealt with subjects such as marital rape, and the idea of career being potentially more rewarding for a woman than marriage. She was self-educated to a high level, and her work was admired by Thomas Hardy.
Mona Caird’s essays were published in a number of influential magazines, including the Westminster Review and the Fortnightly Review. Her 1888 essay ‘Marriage’ analysed the history of the abuse of women under the system of marriage, and provoked a series in The Daily Telegraph called ‘Is Marriage a Failure?’. The series elicited 27,000 readers’ letters in response. The excerpts shown here are from ‘Marriage’ and ‘Phases of Human Development’.
Caird writes about woman being:
punished for all sins and errors with a ferocity and a persistence specially reserved for a sex which is called weak … Truly the fate of woman, in its injustice, its debasement and humiliating pain, is a tragedy such as Shakespeare never wrote nor Aeschylus dreamt of. (p. 97)
In considering the nature of dishonour associated with sexual relationships that threaten and break a marriage Caird writes:
The husband feels in some mystic fashion dishonoured by his loss, albeit it is the wife and not he who, on his own showing, has committed the crime. Is it possible to be really dishonoured by any action except one’s own? One may be pained, injured, thrown into despair by another person; but, in the name of reason, how dishonoured? (p. 90)
In ‘Phases of Human Development’ Caird writes about the missed opportunity of relationships which could be supporting rather than oppressive; this is engendered by marriage: ‘To place the sexes in the relationship of possessor and possessed, patron and dependent, is almost equivalent to saying in so many words, to the male half of humanity: “Here is your legitimate prey, pursue it”’ (p. 215).