Date of Award

12-2016

Degree Type

Honors College Thesis

Department

English

First Advisor

Alexandra Valint, Ph.D.

Advisor Department

English

Abstract

Divorce laws changed radically across the Victorian period (1837-1901), making divorce more accessible, particularly for men. Considering how those changes affected the portrayal of divorce in early, mid, and late Victorian novels, this study analyzes the literary representation of divorce in Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre (1847), Charles Dickens’s Hard Times (1854), and George Meredith’s Diana of the Crossways (1885), contextualizing this analysis with literary criticism and legal history. No matter how accessible divorce became during the nineteenth century and no matter a character’s reason for wanting to end his/her marriage, divorce is not presented as a legitimate option for characters in any of these three novels.

Even when divorce is legally possible and the character’s desire for divorce is understandable, the only way that any of these marriages end is through the death of the character or his/her spouse. Reflecting persistent societal opinions against divorce despite legal reforms, these characters suffer because the influence of public opinion negates the growing availability of divorce. Furthermore, though both female and male characters describe marriage in terms of imprisonment, men and women in these stories seek divorce for different reasons: the men are married to immoral women and want to marry better women because the behavior of their spouses reflects negatively on them, and the women simply want be free from loveless marriages. This study considers not only how Victorians viewed marriage and divorce but also reveals Victorians’ assumptions about appropriate behavior for men and women both within marriage and in broader society.

Comments

Honors College Award: Excellence in Research

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