Judgment and Justification in the Nineteenth-Century Novel of Adultery

Judgment and Justification in the Nineteenth-Century Novel of Adultery

Judgment and Justification in the Nineteenth-Century Novel of Adultery

Judgment and Justification in the Nineteenth-Century Novel of Adultery

Synopsis

Compares six 19th century novels of adultery from around the world to show how they reflect the judgments made on erring wives by hypocritical societies.

Excerpt

Marriage has been a frequent topic of literature. As a social institution, its roots are entangled with the mystery of society itself. It is the conventional conclusion to comedies, and it continues to be the dream and purpose of many fictional and not so fictional young women of the commonera. Its breakdown—that is, adultery—became topical in realist novels of the nineteenth century, though certainly, adultery is as old as marriage itself. the tales of Tristan and Isolte and Lancelot and Guinevere are powerful icons of passionate love with no counterpart in a happily married couple. Indeed, the “classic” love triangle “is a figure at once tense and indispensable: it calls for a resolution that the skilled storyteller first withholds and at length grants.” Tony Tanner in his Adultery in the Novel asserts, for instance, “Adultery as a phenomenon is in evidence from the earliest times … and indeed we might suggest that it is the unstable triangularity of adultery rather than the static symmetry of marriage, that is the generative form of Western literature as we know it” (12). Happiness, death, the “perfect union” are all “nonnarratable,” as far as D. A. Miller is concerned, by which he means that they cannot generate a story (5), or, to paraphrase Tolstoy, all happy marriages are alike; unhappy marriages are unhappy each in its own way. the instability of an unhappy marriage and an affair, what Gay calls “the unstable triangularity of adultery,” is precisely the narratable material of the nineteenthcentury novel of adultery. in the following pages we see how Flaubert, Queiros, Tolstoy, Clarin, Fontane, and Chopin resolve and bring to closure, return to a state of “nonnarratable quiescence,” the “narratable disequilibrium” of the classic love triangle, which in some cases has become rectangular. Love is often cherished by readers and authors alike, but adulterous love, from a societal viewpoint, must always be punished since it threatens the very institutions upon which society functions and grows. Very often, the conflict arises in these novels between wives who crave novelty, excitement, and undying passion and husbands who live by the code of conduct prescribed by their societies to the detriment of their seemingly happy marriages.

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.