Charles Samuel Keene’s “To Be Quite Accurate” illustration from p. 286 of the 11 June 1887 issue of Punch (vol. 92) (personal photo of London Library copy of Punch)
Gold frame is from the Birmingham Museums Trust painting The Knight (1986P112)
IALS (Institute of Advanced Legal Studies), London
The Punch illustration was accompanied by a short caption depicting an exchange between a female witness and a barrister. She repeatedly tells the truth, but leaves the barrister frustrated by her insistence on complete accuracy:
Counsel: “But, my dear madam, surely you must be one or–”
Witness (simpering): “No–engaged!”
For women of the period, the liminal state of engagement was just as important as the other categories of marital status applied to them. Yet to men (and the male-controlled courts), it is insignificant, particularly at a time when the law is moving away from breach of promise suits.
During the pre-professionalisation period (before 1919), depictions of women in the courtroom are significant because they are much less common than depictions of men. The cartoon and caption emphasise that women (and their interests and priorities) are out of sync with the interests and priorities of the male- and profession-controlled space. Accuracy is something that is valued in the courts, yet the woman’s attempt to be accurate is considered foolish and facile. In a sense, women have a general awareness of the skills and practices of the law, but their lack of education leaves them out of pace and out of place.