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Errors and Reconciliations: Marriage in the Plays and Early Novels of Henry Fielding

Castro Santana, Anaclara (2013) Errors and Reconciliations: Marriage in the Plays and Early Novels of Henry Fielding. PhD thesis, University of York.

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Abstract

This thesis explores Henry Fielding’s fascination with marriage, and the importance of the marriage plot in his plays and early novels. Its main argument is twofold: it contends that Fielding presents marriage as symptomatic of moral and social evils on the one hand, and as a powerful source of moral improvement on the other. It also argues that the author imported and adapted the theatrical marriage plot—a key diegetic structure of stage comedies of the early eighteenth century—into his prose fictions. Following the hypothesis that this was his favourite narrative vehicle, as it proffered harmony between form and content, the thesis illustrates the ways in which Fielding transposed some of the well-established dramatic conventions of the marriage plot into the novel, a genre that was gaining in cultural status at the time. The Introduction provides background information for the study of marriage in Fielding’s work, offering a brief historical contextualization of marital laws and practices before the Marriage Act of 1753. Section One presents close readings of ten representative plays, investigating the writer’s first discovery of the theatrical marriage plot, and the ways in which he appropriated and experimented with it. The four chapters that compose the second part of the thesis trace the interrelated development of the marriage plot and theatrical motifs in Fielding’s early novels, namely Shamela (1741), Joseph Andrews (1742), Jonathan Wild (1743), and The Female Husband (1746). By drawing attention to the continuities between Fielding’s plays and novels, my research challenges the conventional Richardson-Fielding dichotomy, proposing alternative readings that demonstrate that Fielding’s novels are more indebted to their author’s theatrical past than to the factual, but frequently overstated, rivalry with Samuel Richardson. A key argument, which this thesis offers as an innovative contribution, is that the novel form as moulded by Fielding at mid-century has an explicitly theatrical bearing, which has hitherto not been studied.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Keywords: Marriage; Marriage plot; Henry Fielding; Theatre; Novel; Eighteenth Century; Intergeneric links
Academic Units: The University of York > English and Related Literature (York)
Identification Number/EthosID: uk.bl.ethos.595072
Depositing User: Anaclara Castro-Santana
Date Deposited: 07 Mar 2014 15:58
Last Modified: 08 Sep 2016 13:30
URI: http://etheses.whiterose.ac.uk/id/eprint/5100

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