Gretchen Murphy, “Revising the Law of the Mother in the Adoption-Marriage Plot” (pp. 342–365)
This essay traces a common plot in British and American fiction in which an outsider is first adopted and then later marries into a family. Such plots have been linked with the transition from blood to voluntary association in liberal society, but this essay examines the apparent superfluity of adoption and marriage in bringing the outsider into the family. Surveying historicist and psychoanalytic interpretations of the role of incest in the formation of democratic and contractual community in these works, the essay uses Juliet Mitchell’s psychoanalytic theory of siblings to propose that these plots address a central challenge of democracy: mediating equality and freedom when a legally imposed equality among all stands at odds with the freedom to create closed communities of choice. Shifting from adopted siblinghood to marriage enables a fantasy of social relations that are entirely chosen rather than imposed. Novels discussed include Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park (1814); James Fenimore Cooper’s Wyandotté (1843); Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights (1847); Maria Susanna Cummins’s The Lamplighter (1854); Frank J. Webb’s The Garies and Their Friends (1857); Anthony Trollope’s Doctor Thorne (1858); Harriet Beecher Stowe’s The Pearl of Orr’s Island (1862); Augusta Jane Evans’s St. Elmo (1866); María Ruiz de Burton’s Who Would Have Thought It? (1872); and Helen Hunt Jackson’s Ramona (1884).
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