In the eighteenth century, when the definition of marriage was shifting from one based on an hierarchical model to one based on notions of love and mutuality, marital life came under a more intense cultural scrutiny. This led to paradoxical forms of representation of marriage as simultaneously ideal and unlivable. Chris Roulston analyzes how, as representations of married life increased, they challenged the traditional courtship model, offering narratives based on repetition rather than progression. Beginning with English and French marital advice literature, which appropriated novelistic conventions at the same time that it cautioned readers about the dangers of novel reading, she looks at representations of ideal marriages in Pamela II and The New Heloise. Moving on from these ideal domestic spaces, bourgeois marriage is then problematized by the discourse of empire in Sir George Ellison and Letters of Mistress Henley, by troublesome wives in works by Richardson and Samuel de Constant, and by abusive husbands in works by Haywood, Edgeworth, Genlis and Restif de la Bretonne. Finally, the alternative marriage narrative, in which the adultery motif is incorporated into the marriage itself, redefines the function of heteronormativity. In exploring the theoretical issues that arise during this transitional period for married life and the marriage plot, Roulston expands the debates around the evolution of the modern couple.
Chris Roulston is Associate Professor of Women's Studies and French Studies at the University of Western Ontario. She is also the author of Virtue, Gender and the Authentic Self in Eighteenth-Century Fiction.
'This is a very ambitious study. Consistently juxtaposing aspects of two cultures (the most 'advanced' of the time), and covering a century (treated in the main synchronically), it draws on a considerable range of primary texts. The narrative episodes selected for exposition are germane, nicely grouped, and often perceptively read. ... I think that the multiple elements taken on here are elucidated and kept in play very well. This is a rich and valuable study.' Modern Language Review 'This is a valuable addition to the available literature on the novel in the eighteenth century, because it considers French and English examples of the genre under the same criteria, and treats them as products of a wider European culture. [Roulston] also shows that the idea of mutality in marriage is one that has a history stretching back to the Enlightenment and that still has a determining role in shaping approaches to the institution to this day.' New Zealand Journal of French Studies 'Roulston presents a rich study of how eighteenth-century English and French authors grappled with the challenge of turning the mundane quotidian dramas of married life into compelling, readable narratives. Her original focus on the "crisis of representations" that married life posed for the novel opens new ways to think about many of the canonical texts that she addresses here. ...Narrating Marriage provides an in-depth look at the debates surrounding marriage in the eighteenth century both as an institution and as a lived experience between two individuals. This work is a welcome addition to eighteenth-century studies.' Eighteenth-Century Fiction