Abstract: ”Reader, I Did Not Marry Him”: Marriage Proposals, Consent, and Female Sexuality in the Victorian Era

Hello! My name is Elizabeth (Lizzy) Flood. I’m a junior at the College, majoring in English, and I’m delighted to have the opportunity to conduct research over the summer for my Honors thesis! Read my abstract below to get an overview of my topic.

For my research, I am looking at marriage proposal scenes in Victorian literature. The three main texts I am focusing on are Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte, North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell, and Far from the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy. All three contain various proposal scenes where their central heroines either deny or accept a potential marriage. The rejection or acceptance of marriage in these novels highlights varying ideas about the importance of marriage, affection, and sex in women’s lives. I am interested in focusing on what these scenes can tell us about female sexuality in the Victorian Era and how marriage proposals functioned as a sort of metaphor for sexual consent in Victorian literature. I will also be looking at primary sources from the Victorian Era about sexuality and marriage to compare my authors’ views in comparison with the Victorian Era as a whole. Part of my research will be conducted in England, where I am currently studying abroad, including trips to Bronte’s, Gaskell’s, and Hardy’s homes and the British Library in London.