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What is an Enoch Arden law?

A law providing for a divorce, an annulment or an exemption from liability on the ground of an unexplained absence of a husband or wife for a certain number of years is called an Enoch Arden law. For instance, the present New York Enoch Arden law provides that a marriage may be annulled if either party has been absent for five successive years and is not known to be alive. The more usual period of absence in Enoch Arden laws is seven years. The name was suggested [page 11] by Enoch Arden, the title and the name of the hero of a long narrative poem written in 1862 and published in 1864 by Alfred Lord Tennyson (1809-1892). In the story a sailor named Enoch Arden, after being wrecked on a desert island for several years, returns home to find his wife, who supposed him dead, happily married to his friend. After hovering in the neighborhood of his old home for a time the self-sacrificing hero decides not to make himself known but, rather than to wreck the marriage of his wife and friend, goes away and dies of a broken heart. This poem by the poet laureate of England was immensely popular in the Victorian age and is still regarded as a school classic.