Reader, I Divorced Him: Famous Literary Couples Untie the Knot
Nancy Scott Hanway
Nancy Scott Hanway
Nancy Scott Hanway (nancyscotthanway.com) is a graduate of the Iowa Writer's Workshop, where she received her MFA in Fiction Writing. She earned her MA/PhD in Comparative Literature from the University of Iowa. Originally from New York, she has lived in France and Argentina. Now based in Minnesota, she is Associate Professor of Spanish at Gustavus Adolphus College. Her work has appeared in The Florida Review, Portland Review, Southern Humanities Review, Grey Sparrow, PMS, Pearl, Forge, and in many other journals. She lives in Saint Paul with her husband and son.
#1—Jane and Mr. Rochester
Reader, I divorced him.
I slipped off one day to the lawyer's to begin the proceedings, which of course would end in Chancellery.
Why did I divorce him? Because the kind of man who would keep his mad wife in the attic while he proposed marriage to another did not change overnight, even after the tragic accident that had taken his sight, only partially recovered. Edward's anger toward me increased as the years went on. He blamed me for the accident since, he reasoned, if I had run off with him to Italy, as he had wanted—he never would have been at Thornhill when the fire started. Once Bertha died, we could have wed in Italy, returned in triumph, and rebuilt Thornhill.
We tried counselling. The counsellor was disturbed that I called Edward "Master" and questioned our sexual practices, which drove Edward nearly to blows. Edward stomped out when I told the counsellor that in my mind, our problems began when I stopped trying to keep up the virginal young governess look. Fashion had changed so drastically that I looked a fright going out in dove-grey and drab. I began to wear purples and magentas. My Master objected that his little sparrow was becoming a bird of paradise, and he stopped trying to put his hand under my skirt.
Edward said he didn't understand why I wasn't satisfied by the relationship we had established at the beginning of the marriage, when I devoted every waking moment to his care. When I stated that I felt this was a symptom of a dysfunctional and co-dependent bond, he raged. I kept quiet, knowing that a firm and dignified demeanour always made him nervous.
Edward Jr.—now a grown man—has built a factory on Thornhill land, which has meant great prosperity for us. I have been able to fund several schools for young women, hoping to give them more options than I had. This also means that I was able to go to live with Edward Jr. and his wife, who has become involved in the suffrage movement, to my great delight.
As for my former husband? After his usual bout of dramatic excess—threatening to kill himself, claiming that he had totally lost his sight again, and hobbling about, waving his crippled arm—he started dating Blanche Ingram, the beautiful society lady he had once spurned. She had gone through a terrible marriage that had given her some humility, although she retained her voluptuous figure.
#2—Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy
In hindsight, my Aunt Catherine—the Rt. Honourable Lady Catherine de Bourgh of Rosings—was completely correct that I would regret my marriage to Elizabeth, although not for the reasons she gave. She claimed I would forever resent the Bennets' inferior connections. But what I deplore are the irritations that are now part of my daily life. Since the arrival of the children, and despite Elizabeth's poor relationship with her mother, Mrs. Bennet is a constant presence. Her invasion of my home has destroyed any peace I formerly had.
Elizabeth is much more her parents' daughter than I ever believed. She has never understood the seriousness of my social position, nor the manners befitting Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy's wife. In company, she is vivacious to the point of impertinence. She often pokes fun at my style of speaking and writing, which I deem unsuitable from a spouse. She resents the time I spend improving the estate—especially my improvements to the library at Pemberley—as she claims I should devote that time to our marriage. (I need to augment the library, I might add, because her father is constantly "borrowing" volumes that now reside permanently at Longbourn.)
Our children, a boy and girl of seven and five years of age, bear Elizabeth's mark too well. They run wild through Pemberley, yet if I attempt to discipline, Elizabeth claims I am heavy-handed and severe. She insists I should develop my attachment parenting skills, a term that seems to indicate that parents should behave like nursery staff. She avows that any mention of the family name (especially to my son) is what she terms "elitist," and she has forbade my heir to develop an appropriate sense of pride in his breeding.
There is no doubt that divorce will terminate my friendship with Bingley and his sisters. But I have long tired of Bingley's relentless optimism and his unwillingness to see beyond his own smug sense of satisfaction. What could I expect from a man who would marry such a shallow woman? (Despite all of Elizabeth's protestations about Jane's fine qualities, I have yet to see any profound feeling in the former Miss Bennet; these are attributes that only a fond sibling could detect.)
Miss Caroline Bingley assures me that I will still be invited to her sister's house, after the divorce. There, I know, I can find pleasant companionship among my social equals.
During our courtship, Darcy deceived me into believing he had learned gentlemanlike manners; it is too bad that he didn't retain them past our wedding. In the beginning of our marriage, he claimed to be attracted to me because of my wit and liveliness, but those are exactly the qualities that, over time, grew odious to him. He certainly never learned to be laughed at. I doubt he knows how to laugh at all. My initial sense of joy in the marriage led me to reconnect him with Lady Catherine; something that I now regret sorely. Her ladyship never missed an opportunity to degrade me in my husband's eyes, to make him feel that he committed a grave social error in allying his family with mine.
Why did I marry him? I learned my father's mistake too well, I fear. I tried to marry for depth of character, so that I wouldn't end up in an unequal relationship, like that of my parents. Instead I find myself with a melancholy, angry man who resents my family's involvement in our lives and who rarely participates in his own. (Did he even mention the names of our children? George and Anne, after his father and mother, of course. I was not allowed to consider names from my own family.) My busy, fun-loving little ones are scared of their father, and it is not surprising. He corrects them constantly. Out of desperation, I even started to invite my mother for long visits, simply because she defends them against the unfair criticisms from Darcy.
And despite having a huge library, Fitzwilliam refuses to read a single book on parenting or marriage. I have asked my father to recommend suitable reading. (My father blames himself for my unhappy alliance.) Knowing Fitzwilliam's prejudices against such books, and through careful research, my father discovered some excellent essays in our own library, which he has left open in Darcy's study. I have grown so desperate that I even asked Charlotte how she managed her husband's constant interference in the lives of their children. (Charlotte's response, I'm afraid, was simply to sigh.)
Whenever I spend time at Netherfield, with Jane and Bingley, I return wishing that Darcy were half as courteous and kind as my sister's husband. Most of all, I bemoan the change of heart I had toward Darcy, based as it was on such a fleeting change in his manners.