Marriage and the position of women, as presented by some of the early Victorian novelists

Marriage and the position of women, as presented by some of the early Victorian novelists

Rajiva, Wijesinha (Corpus Christi College)

Doctor of Philosophy, Faculty of English Language and Literature, University of Oxford (1979)


The subject of this thesis is the unusual nature, in the presentation of courtship and marriage, of Trollope’s depiction of women as compared with that of other novelists of the first part of the Victorian age. To demonstrate Trollope’s remarkable objectivity and realism, I consider first the treatment by him and by three other male novelists of the period of the motivations towards marriage of women. In the first chapter I sketch out the concept of marriage that actually prevailed and suggest thereby the importance of its achievement for women; and also give a rough idea of the restrictions imposed on the treatment of the subject by the critical consensus of the times. In the next four chapters I illustrate the artificiality, according with these restrictions, with which Dickens, Thackeray and Kingsley deal with the subject of courtship, and contrast with this the sympathetic understanding towards women that Trollope exhibits.

I examine in detail in the sixth chapter critical reactions to the works of these writers, in an attempt to show to what extent the distinctions I have made were noted by the Victorians and by more recent critics. In the second part of the thesis I deal with the treatment of relations in marriage itself. Having first considered the singularly few instances in the novelists discussed earlier of the workings of marriage treated on an independent basis, I examine the approach of George Eliot who, along with Trollope, expands upon the subject at length. Arguing that a dogmatic view of the marital relation vitiates her treatment, in the final chapter I explore the contrast offered by Trollope’s realistic presentation of the topic.

Click here to read this thesis from the University of Oxford

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