Biographer & Social Historian
with a particular interest in the Victorian Divorce Court and changing attitudes to marriage and divorce.
On Thursday 11 January 1883, the new Royal Courts of Justice opened its door for business. From that day forward a stream of dissatisfied spouses from all over the country passed through the doors of courtrooms I and II with their tales of marital woe. Their desperate attempts to prove their partner's marital crimes to judge and jury unwittingly became something of a spectator sport; the most sensational, instructive or noteworthy stories reported daily in copious detail by Fleet Street's eager press. The great causes célèbres revealed stories of decadence and disregard, arrogance and entitlement; the faults and foibles of the aristocracy that had once held reverence as a birthright exposed to a growing and increasingly scathing middle- and lower-class readership. Members of the professional class tasted the downside of celebrity; and for those of the working class who could scrape together enough money there was at last some relief from abusive, deserting or unfaithful spouses - but to what end?
Decadent divorce takes a peep through the keyhole of the court to witness, not just 'what the butler saw', but what the world was invited to see; to explore what this microcosm of late-Victorian society tells us about society at large. The picture that emerges is one of high drama, humour, pathos and tragedy, brimming with moral comment that throws a light on the social tensions and preoccupations of the age.
About Ruth Derham
A former health practitioner and university lecturer, Ruth Derham fulfilled a lifelong ambition to write with the publication of Bertrand's Brother in 2021. She now dedicates herself to writing full-time and has a particular interest in changing attitudes to marriage and divorce. An enthusiastic speaker, Ruth has delivered talks to the Bertrand Russell Society, the Santayana Society and the Wells Society on aspects of Frank Russell's life and career and the role he played in divorce law reform. Over the next year she is looking forward to the release of two new books - The Complete Winchester Letters of Lionel Johnson (ed. with Sarah Green, due March 2024) and Decadent Divorce: Scandal and Sensation in Victorian Britain due May 2024. Ruth is current researching the life of Virginia Mary Crawford, social-worker, journalist, literary critic and the woman at the heart of the infamous Crawford-Dilke Scandal of 1886.