In 1786 a man in Spalding, England, delivered his wife in a halter to another man. The woman agreed to be sold and an agreement was signed and witnessed. The event ended when they dined with friends.
Wife selling is often described as the means for a brutal husband to be rid of his oppressed wife. But the above event and others provide a fascinating challenge. In France, it was widely believed that any man in England could dispose of an unwanted wife at Smithfield beast market, which confirmed their low opinion of the nation.
This book describes many varied examples of the practice, and puts it into the wider contexts of public and private behaviour in the Georgian Age. It shines a light on this unusual practice, and investigates the relationships between couples and within families involved couples from many regions and social classes. It also challenges the notion that the women involved were both passive and powerless.
Wife selling is generally seen as an act of brutality, confirming notions that women were its victims. But many women agreed to the sales; some seem to have initiated them, so the situation is complicated. Sales could be brutal, intriguing, and a few had happy endings. Just as every person is unique, so is every couple.