Date of Graduation
Eberly College of Arts and Sciences
This dissertation examines women and marriage ideology in courtship novels of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, specifically novels by Sarah Scott, Frances Burney, Maria Edgeworth, and Jane Austen. Instead of focusing on the heroines of these courtship novels, however, this project explores the marginalized female roles that orbit the courtship narrative: the chaperon, the mother-in-law, the governess, and the spinster. These four roles demonstrate the broad scope of female functions and services in the period while also calling into question the ideology that attempts to limit women only to the role of wife. The chaperon reveals the work necessary to succeed in courtship, which challenges the idea that courtship and marriage are easy and natural; the mother-in-law challenges both the culture of marriage and patriarchal ideology more generally through her maternal authority, which conflicts with male authority; the governess demonstrates the contradiction of teaching her pupils skills that did not lead to her own success on the marriage market; and the spinster calls into question the ideology that the role of wife is inevitable and mandatory. While the narratives of these four roles merit recuperation and attention in their own right, more significantly, this analysis offers a more complete and nuanced examination of the culture of marriage, by exploring alternatives and challenges to marriage, revealing the actual cultural roles of marginalized leisure-class women, and identifying the ways in which the ideology of marriage was both maintained and challenged in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century England. Ultimately, this study exposes the cultural pressures and processes by which the concepts of marriage have been shaped and, at times, distorted.
Zerne, Lori Halvorsen, "Dwindling into a Wife: Women and the Culture of Marriage in Britain, 1760-1820" (2011). Graduate Theses, Dissertations, and Problem Reports. 4822.