In looking for information for an article in the 1881 edition of the Almonte Gazette, our local men were up in arms. Yes, it seems a bill was being introduced into the Dominion to abolish marriage to aunts. They were also seeking legislation to limit the number of mothers-in-law one might have.
The bill in Canada was carried by a large majority in the Commons and defeated by one in the senate. The measure was supposed to be introduced again, but there were many doubts the Senators would yield to the will of people.
The Almonte Gazette stated it would not argue the debate on scriptural grounds, as they believed there was no room for it. The newspaper did express however, that a man should be at liberty to get a wife if he can. A man is unfortunately compelled to look about for a second mother for his children they said, and there is none so likely to discharge the duty satisfactorily as the sister of the deceased.
A well-known case is that of Holman Hunt who defied the Deceased Wife’s Sister Act in the UK to marry Edith Waugh, the sister of his late wife Fanny to whom he had been married for less than a year, in 1875. The Act has its roots in Biblical teaching against incest between ‘affines’, or in-laws, and one symptom of the many fictional treatments of the controversy is the apparent association forged, whether consciously or unconsciously, between direct and indirect incest in the writer’s mind. This manifests itself in the tendency to present the children of such unions as tainted or handicapped in some way, an outcome which might more readily be associated with incest between close blood relatives.
There’s also the interesting story about Charles Dickens. When he and his wife Catherine set up home together, her younger sister Mary Hogarth lived with them and they all went out as a threesome. When Mary died suddenly, Dickens was grief-stricken and wanted to be buried with her when he died. Another sister, Georgina, came to live with them and became a housekeeper/childcarer. It was a bit of a scandal when Dickens’ marriage turned so badly wrong that he walled up the door between his and his wife’s room. She was forced to move out with one of her sons, whilst Georgina stayed with Dickens. At this time he was having some kind of relationship with a very young actress, Ellen Ternan and there was a lot of gossip about, but many people thought it was Georgina he was having an affair with. She stayed with Dickens until he died and was a beneficiary in his Will.
The Almonte Gazette can be read here online. Happy reading!