Metaphors and Marriage Plots: Jane Eyre, The Egoist, and Metaphoric Dialogue in the Victorian Novel

Gray, Erik I.

One of the most distinctive features of Victorian dialogue is the speakers’ tendency to take up and develop one another’s metaphors. This practice, which appears as frequently in actual recorded conversations as in fictional ones, is common in all sorts of situations, but it takes on a particular significance when the interlocutors are potential marriage partners. According to a widespread understanding, enshrined in the Book of Common Prayer, marriage itself is a metaphor. Literary theorists, meanwhile, particularly in the early nineteenth century, frequently describe metaphor as a type of marriage — a joining together of diverse but complementary concepts. Hence it is worth attending when an unmarried man and woman share in the creation of a single metaphor. Focusing on two representative Victorian novels, Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre and George Meredith’s The Egoist, this essay suggests two major ways in which the trope is significant. First, it reflects an important shift in the conception of matrimony in England over the course of the Victorian period, from an ideal of marriage as total merging towards an increasing recognition of distinction-within-union. Second, the practice of sharing metaphor can serve in a novel, not just as a marker, but as a microcosm of conjugal compatibility; even in novels that end as soon as the lovers marry, these dialogues permit the reader to witness, in essence, a marital relationship.


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Partial Answers: Journal of Literature and the History of Ideas

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Academic Units
English and Comparative Literature
Published Here
April 9, 2015