The Marriage Plot

Part of the Palgrave Studies in Nineteenth-Century Writing and Culture book series (PNWC)


If the social and temporal dimensions of the long narrative poem made it a fitting vessel for the apparent chaos and banality of contemporary life, the content appropriate to this form — according to the unanimous evidence of the poems themselves — seems to have been the personal and social processes of courtship and marriage in all their mid-Victorian complexity. Of course, in the age of Caroline Norton and of Mrs Beeton, of the twin pariahs of the prostitute and the old maid, marriage was a national preoccupation; as Matthew Reynolds points out, ‘[t]his focus on wedlock is one of the defining characteristics of the generation of Browning and Tennyson’.1 The significance of marriage for the period — whether as an integrative social mechanism, a marker of national unity, or a locus of morality as well as personal happiness — would alone qualify it for the attention of poets concerned with modern, everyday life; its utility, however, as a means of coming to grips with an ‘unpoetical’ age in verse goes well beyond its topicality. Marriage, in its permanence and respectability, and as the medium of domesticity, may be conceived of simply as everydayness in one of its forms, the quotidian codified in both human relationship and social institution.


Public Sphere Modern Life Romantic Love Personal Happiness Contemporary Life 
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  1. 1.
    Matthew Reynolds (2001) The Realms of Verse, 1830–1870: English Poetry in a Time of Nation-Building (Oxford: Oxford University Press), pp. 51–2CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. For a recent and highly accessible treatment of Victorian practices and attitudes in relation to marriage, see Jennifer Phegley (2012), Courtship and Marriage in Victorian England (Santa Barbara, CA: Praeger). Of course, that courtship and marriage are the consummate (excuse the pun) preoccupation of the Victorian novel is axiomatic–though also under scrutinyGoogle Scholar
  3. see, for example, Kelly Hager’s 2010 volume Dickens and the Rise of Divorce: The Failed-Marriage Plot and the Novel Tradition (Burlington, VT: Ashgate).Google Scholar
  4. 2.
    Jerome J. McGann (ed.) (2000) Don Juan, in Lord Byron: The Major Works (Oxford: Oxford University Press), I II. 8.Google Scholar
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    Kenny provides an engaging account of Clough’s own experience of (and epistolary responses to) the siege; for further discussion of the revolutionary contexts to Clough’s poetry, see Stephanie Weiner (2005) Republican Politics and English Poetry, 1789–1874 (London and New York: Palgrave Macmillan)Google Scholar
  9. Christopher M. Keirstead (2011) Victorian Poetry, Europe, and the Challenges of Cosmopolitanism (Columbus: Ohio State University Press), the latter of which traces the development of a transcontinental postal system as part of the historical backdrop to both Clough’s own Roman correspondence and Amours de Voyage.Google Scholar
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    Many critics have written insightfully on this tension between marriage and career in Aurora Leigh. See especially Alison Case (1991) ‘Gender and Narration in Aurora Leigh’, Victorian Poetry, XXIX, 17–32Google Scholar
  12. Deirdre David (1987) Intellectual Women and Victorian Patriarchy: Harriet Martineau, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, George Eliot (London: Macmillan)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Helen Cooper (1988) Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Woman liangqi Artist (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press).Google Scholar
  14. 33.
    Maurice Blanchot (1993) ‘The End of the Hero’, in The Infinite Conversation, trans. by Susan Hanson (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press), p. 244.Google Scholar
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Copyright information

© Natasha Moore 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Centre for Public ChristianityAustralia

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