Sentimental Courtship Novels in Eighteenth-Century England - Their Guidance on Marriage-Related Issues and Contribution to Progressive Transitions in English Society
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The purpose of this thesis is to showcase sentimental courtship novels’ socio-historical potential, as opposed to reading them as mere entertainment. It attempts to provide the literary field – through in-depth work on a small selection on sentimental courtship novels – with new research that can further enable us to understand how sentimental courtship novels engaged in the contemporary discourse on marriage motivations, how they appear to deliberately influence the attitudes of their readers on marriage-related issues, and thus contributed to influence the society of which they portray. The context of this thesis is the many transitions that took place in eighteenth-century England and the changing attitudes concerning marriage-decisions. These transitions were not smooth, and especially in the upper strata of society, there existed a generational gap between conflicting attitudes. This resulted in two interrelated issues: the attachment of emphasis distributed between different motivations behind the marriage decision, and the redistribution of power over decision-making between parent and child. This thesis analyzes and discusses three anonymous sentimental courtship novels: Louisa: A Sentimental Novel (1771), Emma; or the Unfortunate Attachment: A Sentimental Novel (1773), and Anna: A Sentimental Novel (1782). Firstly, as a form of literary and social backdrop, it discusses sentimental novel culture and historical transitions regarding the marriage-related issues to emphasize how the three novels’ guidance were interpretations dependent on their contemporary contexts. Secondly, it discusses how the novels offer guidance on these contemporary issues through their treatment and guidance on social and economic ambition, love, and filial duty as motivations behind marriage. It discusses how even though the guidance is a compromise between what can be considered progressive and conservative attitudes, the novels’ guidance appear ultimately progressive from an eighteenth-century English perspective. Lastly, it discusses how the three novels contributed to the process of progressive transitions in English society through both their progressive and conservative guidance and their ability to influence the reader.