Date of Award

Spring 5-2017

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)





Committee Chair

Ellen Weinauer

Committee Chair Department


Committee Member 2

Nicolle Jordan

Committee Member 2 Department


Committee Member 3

Jameela Lares

Committee Member 3 Department


Committee Member 4

Alexandra Valint

Committee Member 4 Department



In recent decades, scholars have sought to examine the discourse of evolutionary theory in the realist novel. This dissertation examines the ways in which the novel form embodied evolutionary theory by examining Anglo-American courtship plots. In chapter 2, I examine Charles Glascock’s courtship of Caroline Spalding in Anthony Trollope’s He Knew He Was Right. During their courtship, Caroline’s dominant behaviors subvert traditional hierarchies between nations, classes, and genders. However, the open plot of evolutionary change hints at a revolutionary restructuring of social relations. I argue that Caroline and Glascock’s relationship reverts to a more traditional power structure upon their marriage, an ending that resolves social instability.

In chapter 3, I examine the two Anglo-American marriages in Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Shuttle. This text uses the language of evolution, degeneration, and eugenics to interpret two Anglo-American marriages. While critics have demonstrated the importance of rational choice in New Women fiction and eugenic marriage plots around the turn of the century, I argue that Burnett’s novel highlights the limitations of knowledge and rational choice in mate selection. Burnett’s novel suggests the importance of relying on instinctive female sexual desire for mate selection. While the novel advocates for a shift to more equitable sexual relations within the marriage, it does so by reverting to traditional class and racial hierarchies to achieve social stability.

For the last two chapters, I examine failed courtships and marriages between Anglo-American lovers. In chapter 4, I study the failed courtship between Paul Montague and the American Mrs. Hurtle in Anthony Trollope’s The Way We Live Now. The text relies on theories of individual sexual development to explain Montague’s selection of the civilized British Hetta Carbury over the savage American Mrs. Hurtle. However, Montague’s individual evolution fails to account for the larger societal development caused by the entry of Americans into England. Critics have noted the lack of narrative resolution, and I argue that this failure is due in part to the failed Anglo-American romance as the marriage between two British subjects fails to arrest the social and political changes in the novel.

In the final chapter, I examine Isabel Archer’s process of mate selection in Henry James’s The Portrait of a Lady. James is credited with the creation of the American girl and the popularization of international marriages in fiction, and critics have examined the language of evolutionary psychology in Isabel’s choice of mate. I argue that James’s novel critiques the closed plots of women’s individual development in both science and literature. Instead, the novel creates an open plot in which Isabel can continue to change beyond the novel’s end. Overall, these transatlantic texts demonstrate the ways in which evolutionary plots bring about, complicate, or resist romantic resolutions in literary texts.