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To the beat of her own drum: feminine agency in colonial New South Wales 1873-1881
thesisposted on 2022-03-28, 11:12 authored by Marian J. Lorrison
This thesis analyses the ways that some colonial women achieved a measure of personal autonomy by engaging in an adulterous affair. It argues that despite entrenched structural inequalities, the adulterous woman was able to exercise agency in the context of her infidelity. Through an analysis of four cases tried by jury in which a husband sued for divorce on the ground of his wife's adultery, I explore how social class influenced women's capacity for agency. Using documentary evidence taken from the Supreme Court archives and the colonial press of 1873-1881, I suggest that even the powerless and disempowered can at times act with intentionality and autonomy, and that infidelity provided some women with a space in which to resist and challenge their oppression. However, exploring the interaction of social class with gender reveals that this resistance took very different forms according to the individuals material circumstances and position in society. Each of the four women here did indeed march to the beat of her own drum, but whilst facing an economic, political and legal disempowerment that severely hampered her efforts.