English 159 - Fall, 2022

Topics in the Novel

Topic: The Marriage Plot

Class Information

Instructor: Badley, Chip
CRN: 32105
Time: TR 1:40-3:00
Location: 1342 Storer
GE Areas: Writing Experience


The novel, it seems, is wedded to the marriage plot."When one writes a novel about grown people," Mark Twain writes in The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, "he knows exactly where to stop--that is, with a marriage." Since its emergence in the eighteenth century, the novel has often depicted romance, happiness, love, and desire--to say nothing of the many relationships among these pursuits. What does it mean that one of the prevailing plots of the novel involves courtship? What's literary about romantic love? Why is it so difficult, and arguably so boring, to imagine what comes after wedding bells? Our class will investigate the marriage plot as a literary device uniquely attuned to questions of gender and sexuality. That women and queer writers frequently turn to the marriage plot suggests the political work of literature, in that marriage offers both the promise and shortcomings of defining a life in terms of romantic companionship. After studying Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice (1813)--arguably the most popular and enduring of the nineteenth-century marriage plots--we will read Fanny Fern's Ruth Hall (1854) and Edith Wharton's The House of Mirth (1905), novels that imagine women's lives independent of marriage. Then, we will consider the legal and political stakes of marriage in the twentieth century as depicted in Sui Sin Far's Mrs. Spring Fragrance (1912) and Zora Neale Hurston's Their Eyes Were Watching God (1937). Finally, we will explore how film inherits and revises the marriage plot: first in 1930s screwball romantic comedy and then in contemporary queer cinema.


Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen
Ruth Hall, Fanny Fern
The House of Mirth, Edith Wharton
Mrs. Spring Fragrance, Sui Sin Far
Their Eyes Were Watching God, Zora Neale Hurston