Vol. 4 No. 2: Sex, Courtship and Marriage in Victorian Literature and Culture

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.

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Published: 2013-05-16

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