Though the marriage plot is the most familiar vehicle in the Victorian novel for reconfiguring the family, the adoption plot is a prominent alternative version. This essay explores the intersection of comic adoption plots with the motif that Alistair Duck-worth has dubbed the "improvement of the estate." In the Victorian novel the variety of arrangements according to which children are transferred to households other than the one to which they are born reflects the fact that institutionalized adoption did not exist in Victorian England. An investment in traditonal patterns of property succession was one of the factors that delayed its advent. In the adoption plots of Dinah Craik's King Arthur: Not a Love Story and Trollope's Doctor Thorne, however, this concern is countered by a representation of adoption as the key to safeguarding or revitalizing the estate. Craik's novel makes a case for institutionalizing adoption by showing that it is the hero's adoption into a middle-class family that equips him to be the worthy steward of an ancestral estate. In Trollope's novel the salvation of the Greshamsbury estate hinges on the rescue of the illegitimate child, Mary, by the uncle who adopts her. Doctor Thorne suggests that adoption is the key to a social mobility that serves not just the individual but society at large.
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