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«Our Daughters Must Be Wives»

Marriageable Young Women in the Novels of Dickens, Eliot, and Hardy

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Britta Zangen

Victorian society was permeated by the struggle for or against female emancipation, in which marriage – and hence marriageability – were key issues. In this heated public debate on the Woman Question novels were most influential. They presented an ideology to young women readers so that, by aspiring to imitate the role models offered, they would conform to the worldview of those in power – or be encouraged to rebel against it.
The study draws an extensive picture of the shifting debate as it was conducted in non-fictional texts and then compares the young fictional heroines in the novels of Dickens, Eliot, and Hardy to the ideals of femininity both with regard to the characteristics which constitute their marriageability, and with regard to the conditions under which the young women lived.
Contents: The 1840s to the 1870s: Socio-Historical Context – Fiction: Dickens and Eliot – The 1870s to the 1890s: Socio-Historical Context – Fiction: Hardy.