19th Century Chick Lit

Part of the Web site, www.19thcenturychicklit.com, this blog is about the connection between the popular women writers of the 19th century and today's women writers and readers. I'm actually interested in women writers from lots of different time periods and genres--the 19th century is just my starting point.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

The Marriage Plot

I’ve been so distracted lately—I’d like to say it’s all work related. And it’s true I’m swamped with assignments, but I am also way stressed about the idea of planning a wedding. My boyfriend and I bought a house together this summer, and decided to get married. We’re totally non-traditional in our approach to just about everything, including the wedding. The idea of being “a bride” doesn’t really have much appeal to me. It seems to be such a spectacle, and I’ve never been comfortable being the center of attention. I don’t want a fancy dress, don’t want to walk down an aisle, and certainly don’t want to spend gobs of money on one day, when we have the rest of our lives together—and a long list of places to travel.

So I’ve been telling myself that it’s just the idea of the wedding that’s stressing me. But I think it’s also the idea of marriage itself. Or rather, what marriage has historically represented for women. I can’t stop thinking about “the marriage plot.” Many literary critics have argued that for women writing novels in the 19th century (and earlier), there were only two options for endings: Marriage or death. Death is a pretty big downer, so marriage was the lesser of the two evils. No matter how radical or smart-talking the heroine is, she puts on the white dress and walks down the aisle in the end. Even the sassiest, most adventurous heroine, Capitola Black of The Hidden Hand, becomes a misses in the end. It feels disappointing.

It’s not that marriage is bad, it’s just that it’s pretty limiting as an ending because it’s so plotted and final, and it sends the message that this is how a woman’s struggle for independence is supposed to end. I was reading about women and marriage in Britain in the 19th century, and it sounds like pretty nasty business. Women had no protections once they married, and until the Married Property Act passed in 1882, they couldn't even inherit property. They were property. Talk about an institution with some baggage.

But I don’t live in the 19th century. And I certainly don’t have to get married for financial reasons. Marriage isn’t a necessity for me; it’s my choice. So today, I took a deep breath and checked out a bunch of books about non-traditional weddings and wedding planning "on the cheap" from the library. I’ve decided that my life with my guy will be a whole new plot altogether, not a convenient way to tie up an old one.

But no matter what anyone says, I am so not throwing any bouquets.