The Book of Women’s Rights.




English translation copyrighted 2nd April 2023.



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Part A.




THE YOUNG LADY. We are going to talk about Marriage from the point of view of the modern ideal: how will you define it?

THE AUTHOR. Love is sanctioned by Society.

THE YOUNG LADY. Do you consider marriage to be indissoluble?

THE AUTHOR. Before the law, no; but at the time of their union the spouses must have full confidence that the bond will not dissolve.

I believe that Marriage is called to become indissoluble by the sole will of the spouses; that it can only be so.

THE YOUNG LADY. What part do you give to Society in Marriage?

THE AUTHOR. You will fix it yourself, remembering our principles.

If the man and the woman are free beings, in no period of their life can they legally and validly lose their freedom?

If the man and the woman are socially equal beings, in none of their relations, they cannot legally, validly be subordinated to each other.

If the constant aim of the human being is to perfect himself through freedom and to seek happiness, no law can legitimately, validly divert him from this path.

If the goal of society must be to equalize individuals, it cannot, without forfeiting its mission, constitute the inequality of persons and of rights.

If society cannot, without iniquity, enter into the domain of individual freedom, it cannot legitimately, validly, prescribe duties that only concern the internal forum, and annul moral freedom.

Conclude now.

THE YOUNG LADY. From these principles, it results that, in Marriage, the man and the woman must remain free, and equal; that Society has no right to intervene in their association except to equalize them; that she does not have the right to prescribe to their duties which arise only from Love nor, consequently, to punish the violation thereof, that she cannot, in principle, pronounce or refuse a divorce, because, that to the spouses alone it belongs to know if it is not useful for their happiness and their progress to separate from each other.

THE AUTHOR. Well concluded, Madam; but if the Society has no right either to the body or to the soul of the spouses, as spouses; if she cannot, without abuse of power, interfere in any of their intimate relations, she has the right and the duty to intervene in the Marriage from the point of view of the interests and from the point of view of the children.

THE YOUNG LADY. In fact, in the union of the sexes, there is not only an association of two free and equal persons but there is also an association of capital and labor; then, from the spouses, come the children, with education, with the profession, with the subsistence of which it is necessary to provide.

THE AUTHOR. However, the general protection of the interests of the younger generations falls by the right to the Company. In the eyes of the law, the spouses should be considered only as partners, obliging themselves to use such and such a contribution and their work for such and such a definite thing. The Company registers only a contract of interest whose execution it guarantees, like that of any other contract, and of which it publishes the termination, if necessary, by the will of the spouses: On the other hand, it is a question of life and death for the Society that the education of the younger generations. Children, being free beings in development and liable, according to the direction they have received, to harm or be useful to their fellow citizens, the Society has the right to watch over them, to ensure their material existence, they're future moral, to fix the age of Marriage, to entrust the children, in the event of separation, to the more worthy husband and, if they are both unworthy, to take them away from them.

THE YOUNG LADY. You may be going a little far, madam; on the one hand, do children not belong to their parents? On the other hand, can't society be mistaken about the best principles to give them?

THE AUTHOR. Children do not belong to their parents, Madame, because they are not THINGS: To those who persist in believing that they are property, we would say: Society has the right to expropriate for public utility. Then the social right of the children is limited, in fact of principles, to those of Morality: The Company does not have the right to religious beliefs which are the domain of the interior forum. A power that would take children away from their parents because they have no such religious faith would be despotism and deserve universal execration. Whether you say: Society has no right to impose a dogma on children, you will be right; but I could not conceive that you thought of forbidding him the right to teach them, even against the will of their parents, the science which enlightens, the morality which purifies: Is it not the duty of society to advance its members, and can anyone have the right to hold a human creature in ignorance and evil?

THE YOUNG LADY. You are right, Madam, and I pass condemnation. Back to Marriage. I see with pleasure that you are moving away from the opinion of several modern innovators who deny the legitimacy of social intervention in the union of the sexes.

THE AUTHOR. If this union remained unsecured, who would suffer? It's not the men, but the women and the children.

No one can force a man to stay with a woman he no longer loves, but he must be forced to fulfill his duties with regard to the children born of his union, to keep his commitments of interest: by doing wrong to his companion, by escaping the burdens of paternity, he would use his freedom to harm others: society has the right not to suffer it.

THE YOUNG LADY. Thus, Madame, you do not recognize the Society's right to bind souls or bodies; but that of being the guarantor of the Marriage contract, and of the obligation of the spouses towards the future children; to force them, in the event of separation, to fulfill this last obligation?

THE AUTHOR. Yes, Madam; thus, in the event of a breakup, the Company would only have to publicly state the responsibilities of the spouses, the number of children, and the name of one of the two to whom guardianship remained, either by mutual consent or by a social authority. By limiting itself to this role, society would do more to prevent the separation of spouses than anything it has foolishly imagined so far. The ex-spouses would be free to remarry: but what woman would want to unite with a man responsible for several children, or who would have behaved badly with his first partner? What man would consent to marry a woman who was in the same situation?

Do you think that the difficulty one would experience in contracting a new marriage would not be a brake on the inconstancy and the bad practices which lead to a rupture?

THE YOUNG LADY. I believe in the fact that marriage, as you conceive it, would have a better chance of lasting than ours: firstly because it is in our nature to care more about what we can lose. I have often wondered why many men remain faithful to their mistress and have good manners towards her, while they are lacking in regard to their wife and are unfaithful to her; I still wondered why many couples, long happy when they were freely united, are unhappy, often forced to separate legally, when they ended up getting married, and I couldn't see any other reason to these things than these: we hold on to what we know we can escape. The man has more regard for a woman who is not his legal property, his inferior, than for one thus transformed by the law. However, it must be admitted, your ideas, Madame, will seem eccentric.

THE AUTHOR. And yet they are only an application of French laws; indeed, do not our laws establish that conventions can only have as their object things, not persons? That the Society does not recognize the vows and does not prosecute the violation?

However, the current law of marriage alienates the spouses from each other; the wife belongs to her husband; it is in his power. What is such a contract, if not the violation of the principle which declares that all agreements cannot have persons as their object? Would it be more permissible to alienate one's person by a contract of marriage than by a contract of slavery?

Some say that it is permissible to dispose of one's freedom as one sees fit, even to renounce it. Indeed, one can do it, as one can kill oneself; but to use one's freedom to renounce it or kill oneself is much less to use a right than to violate the laws of moral or physical nature: these are acts of madness which one should pity, but which is not permitted to be enacted into law.

Why does the Society not recognize the vows and prosecute their violation, if not because it recognizes that it is forbidden for it to enter the inner forum? If it is not because it does not admit that an individual can alienate his moral and intellectual being more than his body, and devote himself to immobility when his duty is, on the contrary, to progress?

I then ask if this same Society is not inconsistent in requiring perpetual vows from the spouses, in demanding from the woman a vow of obedience, a tacit vow to deliver her person to the desires of the husband.

Is the moral freedom of spouses not as respectable as that of nuns, priests, and monks?

In the eyes of Nature and Reason, do marry individuals have more right to alienate their moral and intellectual being, their freedom, and their person than people in religion?

Another inconsistency of the law: it declares Marriage a Society; the act of marriage is, therefore, an act of partnership: Now, I ask it, in a single act of this kind, is it enjoined by law to one of the partners, to obey, to submit to a perpetual minority, to be absorbed? I do not doubt that the law would declare such an act void between free associates; why, then, does such a monstrosity legitimize the Society of Spouses? Remain of barbarism, Madam, if one wants to think about it.

THE YOUNG LADY. I hope that, by reason and by necessity, the law will be reformed in a more or less near time: but what will not be reformed are the formulas of religious Marriage which prescribe to the spouses the same vows as the Code, and submit, like him, the woman to the man.

THE AUTHOR. Hey! What does it matter to us, Madam, since, thanks to freedom, religious Marriage is only a blessing that one can do without? Those whose temperament is to go to the Church, to the Temple, to the Synagogue must have complete freedom to be blessed by their respective priests: that does not concern the Society. What is necessary is that if, later, their wishes do not seem valid to them, the social authority should not make them obligatory to them: They have the right to be absurd, but Society has no right to impose absurdity on them: His duty is, on the contrary, to enlighten them and set them free.


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Part B.



THE YOUNG LADY. Those who have subordinated the woman in Marriage rely on what, they say, there must be unity of direction in the family, consequently an authority, but obviously, your theory ruins this authority.

THE AUTHOR. What is authority? In practice, it manifests itself through the function of government. Formerly it was based on two principles recognized today as radically false: Divine Rights and Inequality. It was a Right for those who exercised it, whether they were called kings, aristocrats, priests, or men: then the People, the Church, and the Woman had the Duty to obey the elect of god, their superiors by the grace of right bestowed from above.

But, in modern opinion, authority is no more than a function delegated by those concerned to carry out their will.

We do not have to examine here whether this modern conception was embodied in the facts; if the old principle is not in conflict with the new principle; if the depositaries of political and family authority do not have mad claims of divine right; we have only to observe what has become of the notion of authority in current thought and feeling.

What would be an authority in Marriage, according to modern opinion, if not the delegation made by one of the spouses to the other, of the government of affairs and of the family, if not a delegation of function, no longer a right?

And if man and woman are, in principle, socially equal, if aptitudes, the raison d'etre of any function, do not depend on sex, by what right does society have to intervene to give authority either to man or to the woman?

If there is a need for authority in the household, won't the spouses be able to entrust it to the one of the two who will know how best and most usefully to exercise it?

But, between spouses, is there really a place for authority? No: there is only room for the division of labor, and good agreement on common interests. To consult, to come to an agreement, to share the task, to remain master in his department: this is what the spouses must do and what they generally do.

The law is so little in our morals, that here is what happens today: many rich ladies translate two articles of the Code thus: the husband will obey his wife, and will follow her wherever she deems fit to go and reside or to go for a walk. And the husbands obey, because one must spare a well-endowed wife; because it would be a scandal to upset his wife; because one needs her, not being able, without dishonoring oneself, to support a mistress.

Husbands in large population centers escape obedience by Love outside of marriage; they do not command; Madame is free.

Among the workers of the bourgeoisie and the people, it is accepted in practice that no one commands and that a husband should do nothing without consulting his wife and having her consent.

In all ranks, if any husband is naive enough to take his pretended right seriously, he is cited as a wicked man, an intolerable despot whom his wife may hate and deceive with a clear conscience; and what is curious is that most legal separations basically have no other motive than the exercise of the rights and prerogatives granted by law to gentlemen husbands.

I ask you now, Madame, what is the use of maintaining, against reason and morals, an authority which does not exist, or which passes to the spouse condemned to submit to it?

THE YOUNG LADY. On this point, I entirely agree with you; not a woman of the new generation takes a husband's rights seriously. But your theory does not only attack its authority; it also attacks the indissolubility of Marriage which, it is said, is necessary for the dignity of this bond; to happiness, to the future of children, to the morality of the family.

THE AUTHOR. I claim, on the contrary, that my theory assures, as far as humanly possible, the perpetuity and purity of Marriage. Today, when this bond is tight, the spouses, no longer afraid of losing each other, find, in this absence of fear, the germ of a reciprocal coolness; they may quarrel, lack manners, be unfaithful; there will be a scandal, legal separation perhaps; but they are riveted to each other: they cannot become strangers. Put in perspective of this painting that of a household where the bond is dissoluble: everything changes; the despotic and brutal husband suppresses his evil inclinations because he knows that his companion, whom he loves after all, would leave him, would bring to another the care with which he is overwhelmed, and that an honorable wife would not want to replace it.

The husband, disposed to be unfaithful, remains on duty because his abandonment and his outrages would alienate his wife, harm her reputation and prevent her from forming an honorable bond.

The jaded man would no longer marry the dowry of a young girl, because he would know that, promptly disillusioned, instead of resorting to adultery, the young woman would break off an ill-matched union.

The woman who takes advantage of her dowry, of her husband's need to be faithful to her in order to tyrannize him, would fear a divorce that would bring blame upon her and throw her into isolation.

A cantankerous wife would no longer dare to make her husband suffer, a coquette to deceive or distress him; who would marry them after a breakup?

Don't you see free marriages as happier and more durable than others?

Have you not yourself agreed that it is often enough for spouses to separate if they have been legally married?

I knew for my account a free union, very happy during twenty-two years, which broke at the end of three years of legal marriage by the separation; I have known others of shorter duration that legality has helped to dissolve instead of making them eternal.

One cannot believe how many spouses, in 1848, returned to a better path when they feared that the law of Divorce had been passed. If Divorce, a simple expedient, can produce good results, what should one not expect from a rational law?

You only have to think about it to understand that voluntary dissolubility, without social intervention, would make unions better matched, because it would be in your interest, for your own reputation, to only take yourself with the moral conviction of being able to keep; only then would there be no excuse for infidelity; loyalty would enter into the relations of the spouses. The law of perpetuity has falsified everything, corrupted everything: on the woman's side, she favors, she necessitates cunning; on the man's side, it favors brutality, and despotism; it provokes adultery, poisoning, and murder on both sides and leads to those separations, the number of which increases every day, which, by giving the lie to the necessity of the indissolubility of Marriage, throw the spouses into a situation painful, perilous, and drag a host of disorders in their wake.

Indeed, if the spouses are separated young, cohabitation is their refuge. The man, in this false position, finds many people who excuse him; but the woman is forced to hide, to tremble at the thought of pregnancy, and... to make it disappear. Legal separation leads the spouses not only to concubinage, to mutual hatred, but causes the birth of a host of children whose future is compromised, lost by the fact of their illegitimacy.

Let the spouses, according to their rights, be free and everything will go back to normal because everything will be done in light and truth.

THE YOUNG LADY. But the future of the children, Madam?

THE AUTHOR. The morality of children is more assured under the regime of liberty than under that of indissolubility, for they would not long witness these cruel disputes, these disorders which, today, make them concealed, vicious, make them take in contempt or hate one of their authors, sometimes both when they do not take them as models: if living together becomes impossible for the parents, which will be rarer under the law of freedom, the children will not be not subject to the power of people who violate the laws of received morality: they will perhaps see these parents contracting a new bond, like today, but this bond will be honored by all.

From these unions will be able to be born children like today; but these children, instead of being thrown into the hospital, will share with the first the tenderness and the inheritance of their father or their mother. The so-called legitimate children will lose in fortune, it is true, but they will gain good examples; many children who are today in the category of illegitimate will pass into the first and will no longer be condemned by abandonment to die young, or else to wallow in ignorance, vice, misery; to see themselves stamped on their foreheads, as their own fault, the fault of their parents, by a crowd of fools and heartless people who themselves have no guarantee of what they call their legitimacy, except the presumption that their grant the law.


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The Fifth Chapter continued>

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English translation copyrighted 2nd April 2023.


The Book of Women’s Rights. Marriage. 5 1860.