Celebrities nowadays get divorced on a regular basis, but how did things work in the past when two people parted their ways.
The problem of divorce was at the center of a juridical battle that sought either to make it an official right or to suppress it. One thing is certain: with the possibility of a divorce a new social morality started taking shape. The woman had equal right to initiate a divorce. Marriage changed its significance: from an eternal bound it transformed into an egalitarian association with the purpose of reaching happiness and satisfaction. In other words, people stopped getting married from a social need. They wanted to find their fulfillment. The contract could be undone giving the possibility for a new one to be established.
Divorce promotes the idea that happiness is the purpose of marriage and that if difficulties and obstacles appear, then the only solution is parting of ways. Therefore, starting with the possibility of a divorce, the image of marriage changed from “prison” or a rational decision, to marriage as passion, as the end result of a love story. However, two camps are formed: on one hand, we have the one who opposes the notion of a divorce (Church, moralist writers) and on the other hand, those that embrace such a possibility. The battle between the two will have political, ideological and literary connotations.
During the events after 1789 when the French revolution took place, on 20th September 1792 divorce was officially introduced in France. The enemy of divorce was the Church which claimed for centuries that marriage was an unbreakable bond. Something very difficult to stand by in an age when two peasants wanted to get married, the future wife needed to be a virgin on the wedding night, which she would spend not with her husband, but with the lord of the aria. Even after Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire, the emperors opposed to life marriages.
Up to the point when divorce was introduced in France, failed marriages were forced to continue. The acknowledgment of a separation was seldom possible and only to very rich couples. There was also the acknowledgment of a separation as a fact (the traditional situation of a woman whose husband left home one day and never returned), but only in desperate cases. However, if that happened, remarriage was forbidden. It was considered as requirement for a woman to have patience with the bad behavior of her husband.
The law that was passed in 1792 was the work of philosophers. Montaigne denounces the constraints of a marriage as the reasons why affection is killed. Montesquieu considers the unbreakable character of a marriage as the source of a sterile relationship. At that moment, divorce was highly requested at Paris and less in the countryside. Once it was legalized, it enjoyed an enormous success. Statistics show that in the first three month after the law, in Paris there were 572 divorces to 1875 marriages. In the following years, the phenomenon extended to the point that there were more divorces than marriages. One of the reasons behind this was the fact that the law was too permissive. For example, couples, sometimes even under the guidance of a lawyer, would often write a letter where they insulted one another in order to later justify the divorce. This sort of attitude started to draw the attention of the Government. A compromise was reached in 1804 with the introduction of Napoleon’s Civic Code. The Code discouraged the exaggerations. Divorce survived, it was not abolished, however it was limited to several motives. The law maker saw divorce as a remedy against a bigger evil, but one that needs to be applied with a lot of caution and reason.
Since then a lot of changes have been made. Now we have people who divorced up to 6 or 7 times. Consequently, the marriage institution does not look too good. The thought of a divorce discourages many from even taking marriage into consideration. However, if two persons do get together, if they accept each other in their hearts, if they understand that it is a matter of them against the rest, if they always discover new things about one another, if they see the things they do as something always different even though they are not, then that is truly amazing.