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ENL 4122
English Novel

Spring 2006
Time: Monday and Wednesday
11:00-12:15 pm
Room: SOC 286

Class 2

Reading Assignment:

    Susan Staves, "British Seduced Maidens," Eighteenth-Century Studies 14 (1980-81): 109-34.
    This is available through the electronic library database JSTOR. You can get access to this through the USF Library website, under databases.

    Also read Blackstone's Commentary on the laws of England: Chapter 15, which gives you a sense of how marriages were made and dissolved in the eighteenth century, as well as some of the legal consequences of marriage. Pay particular attention to the last paragraphs.

    Begin reading Roxana

DUE: POST # 1 (Group A)


Class Objectives:

  • To establish what marriage was like in the eighteenth century in England, and why it is such a significant decision to make.
  • To sign up for presentation dates.


Notes and Discussion Questions:

1. "British Seduced Maidens"

I've asked you to read this article because it provides important historical information on how people in eighteenth-century British culture understood marriage and family. The article uses both legal and fictional evidence to suggest three important historical developments over the course of the period we are studying.

  • Women are on the way toward equal status (in family, society, law)
  • The law increasingly moves away from ecclesiastical authority to civil authority (secularization)
  • There is a gradual move away from the idea of people being property (daughters, wives, etc.)

  • Although we won't be reading many of the novels Staves mentions, her article will alert you to some of the key issues in the novels we do read. Do your best to understand the article, and please bring any questions you have to discuss in class.

    Staves begins her article by questioning how realistic the fictions/novels of the eighteenth century were with respect to the representation of the pathetic seduced maiden. Her answer is that they are very realistic in two important ways: by demonstrating the secularization of the culture around seduction and marriage and by showing fathers as chief victims in seduction of daughters. Significantly, she writes, "The relationship between law and literature here is not one of allusion or influence, but rather that the novels and the legal fictions of the seduction actions are two parallel fictions exemplifying in two different spheres similar kinds of historical changes" (110). What does this mean? How does this affect your understanding of novels?

    She structures the remainder of this article around two other questions:
    1) Why is the eighteenth century fascinated by pathetic seduced maidens? (begins p. 114)
    2) What exactly is being mourned in these displays of pathos? (begins 121)

    How does she answer these questions? Summarize her main points.

    After p. 122 she begins a history of the legal institutions and the trend toward secularization. While this may be dense, it is important information. What questions does it raise for you?

    On page 125 Staves makes an argument that Puritan reform of law was not aimed at removing Christian morality, but rather limiting the legal authority of the churches and making such morality the basis of civil structure. How does this complicate your understanding of "secularization"? How is this (or is this) different from notions of separate church and state?

    Staves mentions the 1753 Marriage Act, sometimes called the Hardwick act, but she doesn't provide a thorough explanation of it. You can look this up in this Encyclopedia Brittanica through the online database or find additional information on your own. You will come across the effects of this law while reading Blackstone's Commentaries; see in particular the 3rd incapacity to marriage by municipal law; to wit, the lack of consent of guardians or parents. We will be discussing this law and others as they come into importance in our reading.

    The cases and novels Staves discusses all demonstrate how the laws on marriage and seduction action moved from ecclesiastical to secular courts and remedies. What were these remedies or solutions? What about these recourses strikes you as "strange" or at least different from your own culture?

    In the end Staves briefly argues that the changes in laws throughout the period we are studying (roughly the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries) signaled a progression from seeing wives and daughters in terms of family status to considering them as individuals in their own terms. What evidence for this does she provide? How does this suggest greater consideration of the individual?

    2. Blackstone's Commentaries

    Blackstone's Commentary on the laws of England: Chapter 15. This website version, provided by the Avalon project at Yale Law School, uses the following source: Commentaries on the Laws of England by Blackstone, William, Sir, 1723-1780 4 v. : 2 geneal. tables ;27 cm. (4to); First Edition, Oxford : Printed at the Clarendon Press, 1765-1769.

    This popular work condenses the common law of England. It went through 13 editions by 1800. These other editions, with further notations and commentary, are available in facsimile online versions through the Eighteenth Century Collection Online available through USF library from Gale.

    Please note that the website version tries to replicate the eighteenth-century font of the "long S" by using an "f". This leads to some confusion. Please try to substitue the "s" for "f" where appropriate.

    Blackstone comments on "this innovation upon our antient laws and constitution," (i.e. the 1753 Marriage act that requires the marriage banns to be announced, requires a license, and forbids marriage under the age of 21 without consent of parents or guardians). One of the detriments of this marriage is the voiding of marriages among the lower classes. Why would this be so? How do you explain Blackstone's concern here?

    Note finally that once the parties are willing and able to contract a marriage, they must do so in the prescribed manner. What are the conditions necessary to make a valid marriage?

    What are the terms of total divorce or "a vinculo matrimonii"?

    What are the terms of partial divorce or "a mensa et thoro" or separation from bed and board?

    Why is "incontinence" or adultery "the only cause, why a man may put away his wife and marry another?"

    Pay particular attention to the section beginning "By marriage, the husband and wife are one person in law," a concept know as femme couvert. What are the consequences of this law? What are the legal rationales for this system?

    In what sense is the wife inferior to the husband in law?

    What does Blackstone mean when he says the law allows the husband to give his wife moderate correction?

    3. Implications
    The objective for this class is to consider what marriage is like in the eighteenth century and why it is such a significant decision to make. After reading these documents, how would you answer these questions?

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