Award-winning author Alecia Simmonds uncovers a hidden history of love and heartbreak in the archives of law
Until well into the twentieth century, heartbroken men and women in Australia had a legal redress for their suffering: jilted lovers could claim compensation for 'breach of promise to marry'. Hundreds of people, mostly from the working classes, came before the courts, and their stories give us a tantalising insight into the romantic landscape of the past – where couples met, how they courted, and what happened when flirtations turned sour. In packed courtrooms and breathless newspaper reports, love letters were read as contracts and private gifts and gossip scrutinised as evidence.
In Courting, Alecia Simmonds brings these stories vividly to life, revealing the entangled histories of love and the law. Over the long arc of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, pre-industrial romantic customs gave way to middle-class respectability, women used the courts to assert their rights, and the law eventually retreated from people's romantic lives – with women, Simmonds argues, losing out in the process.
Challenging our preconceptions about how previous generations loved and lost, and prompting fascinating questions about the ethics of love today, Courting is a transcontinental journey into the most intimate corners of the past.