Living in sin

Cohabiting as husband and wife in nineteenth-century England

By Ginger Frost

Living in sin


  • Hardcover
  • eBook

Book Information

  • Format: Paperback
  • ISBN: 978-0-7190-8569-7
  • Pages: 272
  • Publisher: Manchester University Press
  • Price: £17.99
  • Published Date: May 2011
  • BIC Category: Humanities / Social & cultural history, Society & social sciences / Gender studies, gender groups, SOCIAL SCIENCE / Gender Studies, SOCIAL SCIENCE / Sociology / Marriage & Family, HISTORY / Europe / Great Britain / Victorian Era (1837-1901), HISTORY / Europe / Great Britain / Georgian Era (1714-1837), Social & cultural history, European history, United Kingdom, Great Britain, History, Modern History
  • Series: Gender in History


Living in sin is the first book-length study of cohabitation in nineteenth-century England, based on research into the lives of hundreds of couples. 'Common-law' marriages did not have any legal basis, so the Victorian courts had to wrestle with unions that resembled marriage in every way, yet did not meet its most basic requirements.

The majority of those who lived in irregular unions did so because they could not marry legally. Others chose not to marry, from indifference, from class differences, or because they dissented from marriage for philosophical reasons. This book looks at each motivation in turn, highlighting class, gender and generational differences, as well as the reactions of wider kin and community.

Frost shows how these couples slowly widened the definition of legal marriage, preparing the way for the more substantial changes of the twentieth century, making this a valuable resource for all those interested in Gender and Social History.


Most historians of sexuality, courtship, marriage and the family in Victorian and early 20th century Britain will already be familiar with the excellent social and cultural histories of Ginger Frost. It will come as no surprise to them to learn that Living in Sin is a wonderful book'


1. Cohabitation, illegitimacy, and the law in England, 1750-1914
2. Violence and cohabitation in the courts
3. Affinity and consanguinity
4. Bigamy and cohabitation
5. Adulterous cohabitation
6. The 'other Victorians': the demimonde and the very poor
7. Cross-class cohabitation
8. Radical couples, 1790-1850
9. Radical couples, 1850-1914


Ginger S. Frost is Professor of History at Samford University, Birmingham, Alabama.

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