Courtship and spatiality in nineteenth-century English novels
Date of Issue2014
School of Humanities and Social Sciences
“Courtship and Spatiality in Nineteenth-Century English Novels” analyzes the interplay between the spatial dynamics and the trajectories of courtship and marriage in narratives. Past research has largely ignored the symbiotic relationship between spatiality and romantic love, a narrative strategy exploited by major novelists in the nineteenth century. By examining the catalytic role played by key sites and spaces—in relation to both built and natural environments— I show how spaces act as narrative elements that complicate and forward plots towards their teleology in marriage. Through a non-dogmatic application of modern and postmodern theories on space such as those propounded by Henri Lefebvre and Doreen Massey, I map out the structuring role played by spaces that are also negotiated, controlled, and restructured by the spatial practices of the protagonists traversing love and marriage plots. My close study of Jane Austen’s Persuasion (1818), Elizabeth Gaskell’s North and South (1855) and Charles Dickens’s A Tale of Two Cities (1859) in the context of nineteenth-century discourses such as paintings and illustrations by artists such as John Everett Millais and Anthony Hopkins demonstrates the ways in which structures such as wine-shops, prisons, and factories manipulate the narratives of affective relations. My thesis ultimately argues that the lovers in their progression towards establishing (and preserving in the case of Dickens’s novel) companionate domesticity notably migrate towards spaces that genuinely allow heterogeneous interests to flourish in them. Alternate and ideal domestic spaces that accommodate fluidity and plurality are created out of the conflict between spaces that allow multiplicity, and those that overtly or subtly promote normativity and homogeneity. This spatial approach to courtship and marriage plots in the nineteenth century not only reorients the much-discussed, but still pertinent, discourse of the public and the private spheres, but also provides fresh insights on the narrative functions of spatiality.