Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

“An Early Loss of Bloom”: Spinsters, Old Maids, and the Marriage Market in Persuasion
by Horn, Dashielle, M.A., Lehigh University, 2012, 52; 1511591
Abstract (Summary)

Thomas Gisborne warns young women in his 1797 An Enquiry into the Duties of the Female Sex that society expects them to marry well (meaning to marry someone wealthy), but he argues that marriage should be based on morality instead of economics. As Anne Elliot learns, the judgments family and friends make about potential marriage partners can deeply influence whether those marriages occur at all. As a result of the pressure from Lady Russell's assessment of the young Mr. Wentworth as socially and financially inferior, Anne declines his proposal and enters a period of early spinsterhood. Scholars rarely discuss Anne as a spinster, and indeed her eventual marriage means that she ultimately does not fit the definition, but for most of the novel she occupies the role of the spinster figure; we see her at age 27 as having prematurely lost her bloom and her beauty, and most importantly, removed herself from the marriage market. Her older sister, Elizabeth, by contrast is 29 yet still healthy, beautiful, and marriageable; the contradiction is telling, and attests to Austen's interest in the nature of spinsterhood. Her protest of the overwhelming societal pressure to marry is clear. Austen's portrait of spinsterhood does not suggest that remaining single is a viable choice in society's eyes, but nor does she condone making decisions about marriage (to accept or refuse proposals) on the basis of finances. I will investigate whether Austen calls for a space for women to choose to remain single, arguing for the productivity of spinsterhood, or whether by ultimately marrying Anne to Wentworth she is reaffirming the marriage plot.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Dolan, Elizabeth
School: Lehigh University
Department: English
School Location: United States -- Pennsylvania
Source: MAI 50/06M, Masters Abstracts International
Subjects: Modern literature, British and Irish literature
Keywords: Austen, Jane, Bloom, Elliot, Anne, Marriage, Persuasion, Spinsters
Publication Number: 1511591
ISBN: 978-1-267-37307-6
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