Volume 4, Number 2 (Winter 2012)

Introduction: Sex, Courtship and Marriage in Victorian Literature and Culture

Charlotte Mathieson
(University of Warwick)

Hetty had never read a novel [...] how then could she find a shape for her expectations?

George Eliot, Adam Bede (1859)

This line from George Eliot's 1859 novel Adam Bede, reflecting on the thoughts of young, naïve country girl Hetty Sorrel as she falls in love with the older, wiser and wealthier gentleman Captain Arthur Donnithorne, provides an indicative point from which to begin a discussion of sex, courtship and marriage in Victorian literature and culture, opening up many of the ideological tensions and wider cultural resonances that these terms and their intersections produced. In the naïvety of Hetty's innocent unknowing and shapeless expectations, Eliot signals the problem of ignorance about sex prevalent among young women in the period; in the assertion that ‘a novel' would provide Hetty with a guide to understanding, we are reminded of the centrality of courtship and marriage in structuring many novels of the period, as well as the cultural work that literature played in ‘shaping' the ideas of its readers. ... Read the full text here.

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Table of Contents


Introduction: Sex, Courtship and Marriage in Victorian Literature and Culture Abstract PDF
Charlotte Mathieson (University of Warwick)
‘I Think I Must Be an Improper Woman Without Knowing It’: Fallenness and Unitarianism in Elizabeth Gaskell’s Ruth Abstract PDF
Rachel Webster (University of Leeds)
‘So Pure and Rational an Attachment’: Isabella Glyn’s Performance of Social and Sexual Risk at Sadler’s Wells Abstract PDF
Jem Bloomfield (University of Nottingham)
Madness in Marriage: Erotomania and Marital Rape in He Knew He Was Right and The Forsyte Saga Abstract PDF
Helen Goodman (Royal Holloway, University of London)
Victorian Cougar: H. Rider Haggard’s She, Ageing and Sexual Selection in Marriage Abstract PDF
Esther Godfrey (University of South Carolina Upstate)
Pederasty and Sexual Activity in Oscar Wilde’s The Happy Prince and Other Tales Abstract PDF
Chris Bartle (University of Leeds)
Valences of Desire: The Suspended Eroticism of Middlemarch Abstract PDF
Colleen M. Kropp (Temple University)

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