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marriage as ideology in contemporary and classic literature

3. Her husband the relater she preferred
Before the Angel, and of him to ask
Chose rather; he, she knew, would intermix
Grateful digressions, and solve high dispute
With conjugal caresses: from his lip
Not words alone pleased her. O! when meet now
Such pairs, in love and mutual honour joined?
(John Milton, Paradise Lost, Book VIII)

Throughout literary history, from the biblical to the postmodern there is a recurrent ideology that continually appears, that of marriage. Whether the ideology of marriage is used as a benchmark for “normality”, or as a representation of the self, there is no denying that along with death and religion, marriage remains prevalent as imperative to many texts, both past and present. Some, like John Milton, argue that love and marriage do not go hand in hand, as common human intuition leads us to believe. Milton believed that, “The greatest loneliness is the loneliness of the heart in marriage”, the ideology of marriage is central to Milton’s most famous work “Paradise Lost”, which is in essence, the story of a marriage gone wrong. Therefore, if Milton is to be believed, it can be argued that the ideology of marriage in literature can be traced back (in Christian mythology at least) to the dawning of time. In the past marriage was as important to life as it is today. Religion tried to keep a hold on it, the establishment tried to control it and the consensus proclaimed it to be the most vital key to social order.

The continual thread of the importance of marriage through the passage of time is highlighted in the texts that this essay is concerned with. “Mrs Dalloway” by Virginia Woolf, which is set shortly after the first world war and “Open Secrets” by Alice Munro, in which the short stories span across time from the colonial to the modern. In these texts it is evident that marriage shapes the lives of all, whether they entered into it through choice or circumstance, or not at all. In the case of the latter a woman who remains single is seen as a spinster who has “failed” to get married. An unmarried man is often portrayed as untrustworthy or an object of gentle mockery. In less recent times a woman's...

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