Date of Award

Summer 8-2017

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

English

First Advisor

Todd Thompson

Second Advisor

Lingyan Yang

Third Advisor

David Downing

Abstract

This dissertation examines the ramifications that the American Civil War had on the decision to marry--including whether or not to marry, whom to marry, and when, and the role and relationship expectations after vows were said--as reflected or imagined in American fiction from the 1860’s and 1870’s. The focus is on how Civil War-related fiction written by women such as Rebecca Harding Davis, Lydia Maria Child, Louisa May Alcott, Elizabeth Stuart Phelps, Augusta Jane Evans, E.D.E.N. Southworth, and others portrayed the decision to marry. These authors were responding to the upheaval in their society created by the war. I will examine the effects of this rupture in cultural attitudes towards marriage through New Historicist and Feminist lenses. As subsequent chapters will demonstrate, women authors of the era took the focal point of women’s lives, the decision to marry, and endued the act with immense political implications, making the fulcrum for their hopes for reform. The Civil War started in motion events, forces, and thoughts that would lead to lasting transformation in the lives of women, and these new possibilities were reflected in the decision to marry. This dissertation also examines diaries and letters written by women during the era in order to discover the extent to which the transgressions and transformation are evidenced in the lives of real women. The chapters examine the Southern perspective, the Northern consideration of the feasibility of a woman combining a career with marriage, the decision to marry as portrayed in sensational fiction, and interracial attraction and marriage literature. In the end, I believe that one of the most significant transformations instigated by the war and its aftermath was the beginning of the transition towards lessening the significance of marriage in the lives of women. Marriage began to no longer be, to the degree that it had been, the overwhelming determiner of a woman’s entire adult life.

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