Published online by Cambridge University Press: 18 December 2009
This chapter, and the one that follows, argues against the idea that over the course of our period marital violence was increasingly conducted in private. It will be shown that although violence between husbands and wives often occurred in domestic locations, this did not make it any less of a public activity. Marital violence could not be confined to conjugal ties and spaces, but instead could affect all those with whom a couple came into contact, spilling out into places of social as well as familial interaction. Violence was the mechanism by which family matters became community concerns. Indeed, by its very practice marital violence broke down any distinction that could be made between ‘private’ and ‘public’ behaviour, for it knew no boundaries.
My argument differs significantly from that advanced by other historians, who have concluded that it was the growing privatization of marital violence which explains why it became a problem that few people outside the conjugal unit were prepared to confront. It was over the course of the period chosen for this book that this important change is thought to have occurred. From an event witnessed by many, marital violence became shrouded with secrecy. What had been behaviour that attracted the attention, intervention and regulation of others, changed to conduct popularly viewed as the business of only the couple themselves. In the process, it is argued that the response of those who lived and worked around a couple enduring marital violence became one that we might recognise today.