The Synod and Divorce

From The Arthur Conan Doyle Encyclopedia

The Synod and Divorce is a letter written by Arthur Conan Doyle first published in the Sussex Daily News on 9 february 1918.

The Synod and Divorce

Sir, — Since my name seems to have been freely used at the Church meeting at Eastbourne I should be glad of the opportunity to say a few words in reply to the flood of misrepresentation which seems to have carried the audience off their feet. The concrete fact which has to be borne in mind is that there are admittedly some hundreds of thousands of separated people in this country, that their existence is a scandal and a danger, and that some plan must be found for dealing with such a situation; that consideration alone should have brought some common-sense into that atmosphere of intolerance and prejudice. Anyone who desires to form an honest opinion upon this matter has to ask himself the following questions:—

1. — Is it right that divorce should be possible for the rich and impossible for the poor? That is notoriously the case at present. £200 is the average cost of an ordinary divorce suit.

2. — Is it right that the law should be different for men and women — that a woman is cast offfor one offence, and that a man may have a fresh mistress every week so long as he abstains from cruelty to his wife?

3. — Is it right that a man may desert a woman and make a new life for himself in some far country, and that the deserted woman shall still be tied to him indefinitely?

4. — Is it right that a man or woman who is wedded to one who is hopelessly insane shall be single all their lives? This insanity may be dipsomania, which is the foulest of all insanities.

5. — Above all, the most pressing of all, is it right that a vast number of people should be separated by the Courts, or by legal agreement, from their spouses, but should be unable to form fresh families? This truly infernal arrangement, which is largely due to ecclesiastical bigotry, has affected some 200,000 people who have passed through the Courts, and an unknown but very large number who have shrunk from the horrors of publicity and have, by mutual consent or by a private agreement, separated from each other. In the case of the first category, the judgment of the Courts has shown that there were serious causes why they should not live together — causes which in many cases would have entailed proper divorce had there been funds to deal with the matter in a divorce Court. In the second category, there should certainly, in my opinion, be a legal inquiry and judgment before divorce is given — a course which must prevent any of those pernicious results about which so much was talked by the speakers at the Church meeting.

It should be explained in this connection that the document quoted from as being a draft Bill was really a mere skeleton draft upon which the Parliamentary Committee were to work before laying the matter before Government. It by no means represents the views of the reformers or the final form which the Bill would take, and it is without all those precautions and guarantees which would naturally be included. Its finding its way in so premature a shape into the Press was entirely due to a mistake upon the part of a member of the Parliamentary Committee. Is it not perfectly clear that by this separation system there are large numbers of people who are a misery to themselves and a danger to everyone around them; for if they cannot found families they can and do break them up. We have lost not less than 150,000 killed in this war. That is a conservative estimate. We are in bitter need of increased population. Surely it does not need to be proved that if you enable a large number of people to re-marry who cannot marry at present you are helping the future population of this country.

All the inanities of Mr. W. Petrie about "Sherlock Holmes" cannot conceal the fact. The proposal may seem to Archdeacon Hoskyns to be a very German one, but if he were more conversant with the subject he would know that it corresponds not only with the law of Germany, but with that of Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Holland, our Australian Colonies, and practically every Protestant country in the world. Indeed our law on divorce is more reactionary than that of several Roman Catholic countries, such as Belgium and Bavaria.

The Church of England has a very bad record for the war. By the Church I do not mean individual clergymen, who have often been heroic, but I mean the official organisation. They made themselves a privileged class and escaped conscription; they gave no clear lead upon temperance; their words and deeds have been continually half-hearted. If on the top of this they mar the chance which the nationhas of adopting sane divorce laws, and so restoring some of its lost population, they will surely break the patience of the people, and widen the chasm which already exists between them and the true living England.

Yours, &c.,

Windlesham, Crowborough, 6th February.