Cover image for Family likeness : sex, marriage, and incest from Jane Austen to Virginia Woolf
Title:
Family likeness : sex, marriage, and incest from Jane Austen to Virginia Woolf
Author:
Corbett, Mary Jean, 1962-
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Ithaca : Cornell University Press, [2008]

©2008
Physical Description:
xiv, 264 pages ; 25 cm
Language:
English
Contents:
Making and breaking the rules : an introduction -- "Cousins in love, &c." in Jane Austen -- Husband, wife, and sister : making and unmaking the early Victorian family -- Orphan stories : adoption and affinity in Charlotte Brontë -- Intercrossing, interbreeding, and The mill on the Floss -- Fictive kinship and natural affinities in Wives and daughters -- Virginia Woolf and Victorian "incests".
Electronic Access:
Table of contents only
http://www.loc.gov/catdir/toc/ecip0818/2008019568.html
ISBN:
9780801447075
Format :
Book

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Summary

Summary

In nineteenth-century England, marriage between first cousins was both legally permitted and perfectly acceptable. After mid-century, laws did not explicitly penalize sexual relationships between parents and children, between siblings, or between grandparents and grandchildren. But for a widower to marry his deceased wife's sister was illegal on the grounds that it constituted incest. That these laws and the mores they reflect strike us today as wrongheaded indicates how much ideas about kinship, marriage, and incest have changed.

In Family Likeness , Mary Jean Corbett shows how the domestic fiction of novelists including Jane Austen, Charlotte Bront , George Eliot, Elizabeth Gaskell, and Virginia Woolf reflected the shifting boundaries of "family" and even helped refine those borders. Corbett takes up historically contingent and culturally variable notions of who is and is not a relative and whom one can and cannot marry. Her argument is informed by legal and political debates; texts in sociology and anthropology; and discussions on the biology of heredity, breeding, and eugenics. In Corbett's view, marriage within families--between cousins, in-laws, or adoptees--offered Victorian women, both real and fictional, an attractive alternative to romance with a stranger, not least because it allowed them to maintain and strengthen relations with other women within the family.


Reviews 1

Choice Review

In this beautifully written, well-argued book, Corbett (women's studies, Miami Univ., Ohio) confronts the puzzling status of "incest" in the 19th century. Victorian England had no laws against a man's having sex with his own sister or child but prohibited a widower from marrying the sister of his late wife. Beginning with this paradox, Corbett looks at how "family" was defined legally, morally, and socially between the time of Jane Austen and Virginia Woolf. "Fictions of family," she argues, "are culturally shaped and culturally shaping," contrary to what contemporary "common sense" might assume about biologically determined relationships. Corbett undertakes a series of readings, not just of novels and juvenilia by Jane Austen, Charlotte Bronte, Emily Bronte, George Eliot, Elizabeth Gaskell, and Virginia Woolf, but also of legal discourse about marriage, scientific inquiry into how breeding works, and late-19th-century anthropological theories identifying incest as that which separates the "savage" from the "civilized." In her conclusion, Corbett draws connections between Victorian thought on the constitution of the family and current debates over gay marriage. This book will benefit historians of the family as well as scholars and students of Victorian and modern British literature. Summing Up: Highly recommended. Lower-division undergraduates through faculty; general readers. R. R. Warhol University of Vermont


Excerpts

Excerpts

In nineteenth-century England, marriage between first cousins was both legally permitted and perfectly acceptable. After mid-century, laws did not explicitly penalize sexual relationships between parents and children, between siblings, or between grandparents and grandchildren. But for a widower to marry his deceased wife's sister was illegal on the grounds that it constituted incest. That these laws and the mores they reflect strike us today as wrongheaded indicates how much ideas about kinship, marriage, and incest have changed. In Family Likeness, Mary Jean Corbett shows how the domestic fiction of novelists including Jane Austen, Charlotte Bront?, George Eliot, Elizabeth Gaskell, and Virginia Woolf reflected the shifting boundaries of family and even helped refine those borders. Corbett takes up historically contingent and culturally variable notions of who is and is not a relative and whom one can and cannot marry. Her argument is informed by legal and political debates; texts in sociology and anthropology; and discussions on the biology of heredity, breeding, and eugenics. In Corbett's view, marriage within families-between cousins, in-laws, or adoptees-offered Victorian women, both real and fictional, an attractive alternative to romance with a stranger, not least because it allowed them to maintain and strengthen relations with other women within the family. Excerpted from Family Likeness: Sex, Marriage, and Incest from Jane Austen to Virginia Woolf by Mary Jean Corbett All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

Table of Contents

Preface and Acknowledgmentsp. vii
1 Making and Breaking the Rules: An Introductionp. 1
2 "Cousins in Love, &c." in Jane Austenp. 30
3 Husband, Wife, and Sister: Making and Unmaking the Early Victorian Familyp. 57
4 Orphan Stories: Adoption and Affinity in Charlotte Brontep. 86
5 Intercrossing, Interbreeding, and The Mill on the Flossp. 115
6 Fictive Kinship and Natural Affinities in Wives and Daughtersp. 144
7 Virginia Woolf and Victorian "Incests"p. 174
Conclusionp. 201
Notesp. 211
Bibliographyp. 243
Indexp. 259