Sex, Marriage, and Incest from Jane Austen to Virginia Woolf
Publication Year: 2008
In nineteenth-century England, marriage between first cousins was both legally permitted and perfectly acceptable. After mid-century, laws did not explicitly penalize sexual relationships between parents and children, between siblings, or between grandparents and grandchildren. But for a widower to marry his deceased wife's sister was illegal on the grounds that it constituted incest. That these laws and the mores they reflect strike us today as wrongheaded indicates how much ideas about kinship, marriage, and incest have changed.
In Family Likeness, Mary Jean Corbett shows how the domestic fiction of novelists including Jane Austen, Charlotte Brontë, George Eliot, Elizabeth Gaskell, and Virginia Woolf reflected the shifting boundaries of "family" and even helped refine those borders. Corbett takes up historically contingent and culturally variable notions of who is and is not a relative and whom one can and cannot marry. Her argument is informed by legal and political debates; texts in sociology and anthropology; and discussions on the biology of heredity, breeding, and eugenics. In Corbett's view, marriage within families-between cousins, in-laws, or adoptees-offered Victorian women, both real and fictional, an attractive alternative to romance with a stranger, not least because it allowed them to maintain and strengthen relations with other women within the family.
Published by: Cornell University Press
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Title Page, Copyright
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...riage between women and men within nineteenth-century families —whether involving cousins, in-laws, or figurative adoptees — represents a com-pelling alternative to the romance between strangers that most critics have taken to be the paradigm for the heterosexual marriage plot. it identifies a cultural tendency toward forging relationships with familial and familiar fig-...
Chapter 1Making and Breaking the Rules:An Introduction
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...of 1908, Virginia Stephen ( later Woolf ) composed a family memoir called “Reminiscences.” While I will return to it at the end of this book, its final chapter is especially significant for my immediate purposes in that it provides a glimpse of the historical shift in the meanings of incest in its representation of one upper-middle-class Victorian family experience. “Reminiscences” tells ...
Chapter 2“Cousins in Love, &c.” in Jane Austen
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...land imagines in the closed-off chambers and curious cabinets of Northanger Abbey (1818), a more mundane mystery awaits solution, one that she cannot so readily gloss with reference to her reading. Announcing to Henry “that when he next went to Woodston, they would take him by surprize there some day or other, and eat their mutton with him,” General Tilney explicitly ...
Chapter 3Husband, Wife, and Sister: Making andUnmaking the Early Victorian Family
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...family letters, the sixth chapter of E. M. Forster’s Marianne Thornton: A Domes-tic Biography (1956), entitled “Deceased Wife’s Sister,” tells the story of “a fantastic mishap” that his grandparents’ generation “could only regard as tragic.”1 After the death of his first wife, Harriet, in 1840, Henry Thorn-ton decided to take another — no crime in that, except that his intended, ...
Chapter 4Orphan Stories: Adoption andAffinity in Charlotte Brontë
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...(1849) cautions Caroline Helstone that “two people can never literally be as one,” an exultant Jane Rochester, echoing Genesis, writes that “no woman was ever nearer to her mate than I am: ever more absolutely bone of his bone, and flesh of his flesh.”1 While advocates of marital reform would increasingly argue that women should retain separate legal personalities in marriage, Jane’s ...
Chapter 5Intercrossing, Interbreeding,and The Mill on the Floss
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...them, matched in affective intensity only by Heathcliff’s quite literal ambi-tion to come between Edgar and Catherine Linton in the grave, the tie between Maggie and Tom Tulliver in The Mill on the Floss provides supreme testimony to the persistence of the first-family bond in the nineteenth-century English tradition. Having renounced her cousin Lucy’s fiancé on the ...
Chapter 6Fictive Kinship and Natural Affinitiesin Wives and Daughters
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...abeth Gaskell’s Wives and Daughters, only one is constructed through the discourse of breeding and heredity that pervades the early books of The Mill on the Floss, set at the same historical moment but within a distinctly different provincial milieu. In representing the Hamleys, Gaskell devotes specific attention to intergenerational family resemblances and divergences in a way ...
Chapter 7Virginia Woolf andVictorian “Incests”
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...sought once more to come to terms with “the past” in writing — but flinched at the task. “I do not want to go into my room at Hyde Park Gate. I shrink from the years 1897–1904, the seven unhappy years” when the Stephen sisters “were fully exposed without protection to the full blast of that strange char-acter,” “the alternately loved and hated father” (“SP” 136, 107, 116). Orches-...
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Sedgwick poses this question in an illuminating discussion of “queer tute-lage” published in the early 1990s. It is this question I have also sought to address by feminist historicist means in the wake of queer theory. Suggest-ing that knowledge of more expansive practices in the past, comparable to the ones I have analyzed here, might provide precedent for projecting “into ...
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Page Count: 280
Publication Year: 2008