Dissertations, Theses, and Capstone Projects

Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name



Comparative Literature


Bettina Lerner

Committee Members

Talia Schaffer

Rachel Corkle

Subject Categories

Comparative Literature | French and Francophone Literature | Literature in English, British Isles | Women's History


Nineteenth-century novel, English literature, French literature, sentimentality


“Marriage Stories” analyzes connections between novelistic form, marriage law reform, and portrayals of virtue in texts by, among others, Stéphanie de Genlis, Mary Wollstonecraft, Sophie Cottin, Claire de Duras, Jane Austen, Honoré de Balzac, Sophie Doin, George Sand, Anne Brontë, and Gustave Flaubert. I argue that the novel was less concerned with abolishing or even critiquing marriage than it was with delineating “good” from “bad” unions, which in turn reflects contemporary discussions about marriage’s role in response to burgeoning social movements. My first chapter considers the epistolary novel in relation to the idea of spouses existing as “one body” culturally and legally. My second chapter examines the endings portrayed in early-nineteenth century literary abolitionist texts, and their relationship to the laws governing interracial marriage. My third chapter examines intrusive styles of narration relative to unsympathetic or unreliable witnesses. Thinking about virtue in the development of the novel in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, this dissertation turns on the interrelation between two questions that betray anxieties of the time: If marriage could be legally “deformed” through divorce, adultery, interracial relationships, and even love matches, what did that mean for the “form” of society? If form, crucial to the structure of literature, could be disregarded in the loose aesthetics of the novel, what did that mean for how literature was written and read?

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