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Title page for ETD etd-11282010-181324

Type of Document Dissertation
Author Kersh, Sarah Erin
URN etd-11282010-181324
Title Naked Novels: Victorian Amatory Sonnet Sequences and the Problem of Marriage
Degree PhD
Department English
Advisory Committee
Advisor Name Title
Carolyn Dever Committee Chair
Ellen Levy Committee Member
Rachel Teukolsky Committee Member
Tricia Lootens Committee Member
  • sonnets
  • Victorian poetry
  • queer theory
  • marriage
Date of Defense 2010-06-07
Availability unrestricted
This dissertation examines the form of the nineteenth-century sonnet in order to demonstrate how this poetry reshapes expectations of Victorian desire, love and marriage. The amatory sonnet sequence, a poetic form which dates back to the early thirteenth century, traditionally chronicled courtly love and unrequited desire. Naked Novels, however, examines how the form of the Victorian sonnet sequence shifts its focus from courtly desire to take as its subject the center of the domestic sphere—marriage. I draw a connection between the strict formula of the sonnet and the strict norm of sanctioned intimacy recognized in Victorian marriage in order to problematize both the poetic form and the legal institution. I argue that exposing sites of queerness—moments that question heterosexuality as normative—in nineteenth-century amatory poetry also exposes the text’s resistance to and critique of social and political structures, particularly marriage. Following a trajectory from mid-century through the fin de siècle, I analyze sonnet sequences by poets such as Elizabeth Barrett Browning, George Meredith, Christina and Dante Gabriel Rossetti, George Eliot, Augusta Webster and Michael Field.
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