MAKING A MARRIAGE
Scene: Dr. and Mrs. Edwin Hatch's drawing-room, Oxford, 1861
Enter Mark Pattison "with his somewhat hawklike nose pointing even more than usual towards the earth": Mrs. Hatch, I am a fool.
MRS. HATCH: Oh, Mr. Rector, that is impossible.
PATTISON: Yes, I am, and what is more, I am an old fool; I have just proposed to Miss Strong and she has accepted me.
-- A. H. Sayce, Reminiscences
The engagement of forty-eight year-old Mark Pattison to twenty-one-year-old Francis Stron took place soon after Francis returned from London on completing her art studies. 1 The marriage ceremony was performed in twenty Church on September 10, 1861, by William Tuckwell, the bride's brother-in-law. 2 No account by Mark or Francis of their courtship, engagement, and wedding survives, but the marriage entered the folklore of Oxford, and contemporaries made sense of it in conversation and letters. 3 The palpable shock with which the engagement was greeted in Oxford may entice us into trusting the normalizing explanations that circulated during and after the Pattisons' lives, although the marriage's semipublic status as a failure meant that stories of its making tended to take sides, especially after the circulation of novels purportedly based on the Pattison ménage. Middlemarch, after all, was published in 1872, well before Mark Pattison's 1884 death. The scandal that coincided with Emilia Strong Pattison's second marriage also inflected accounts of the marriage.
Yet even the most cursory eyewitness story, retrospectively recounted, was shaped by narrative convention. The historical marriage before and apart from its later novelistic and anecdotal representations was made by stories and the playing of parts. Before marrying, Mark Pattison and Francis Strong had to imagine plots that might culminate in a wedding; these plots were not the same. Marriage stories presume difference--the difference of gender. As Marcia Pointon remarks, any "representation of a marriage" must contend with the rigidity of certain norms: marriage "requires the partners to be of the opposite sex and, unlike commercial contracts, the parties are limited in the terms they can introduce into the agreement . . . this 'coming together' in the sight of the Church and State serves to underline and reinforce gender distinctions. Marriage involves very different social and legal requirements, rights and