The Queer Novel and the Marriage Plot
The 2015 U.S. Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage combined an assertion of the constitutional rights of gays and lesbians with an idealizing view of marriage. The decision reads: “No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family. In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than once they were. As some of the petitioners in these cases demonstrate, marriage embodies a love that may endure even past death.” These words echo a long narrative tradition that describes love as the greatest human value and marriage as its ultimate consummation. In this course, we will consider this tradition (the “marriage plot”) and its permutations in the modern queer novel. Queer novels tend to represent love as an obsession or a tragic impossibility, and they often take a dark view of marriage. In readings from the nineteenth century to the present, we will explore the narrative forms that developed during a period when same-sex marriage was unthinkable, and will consider the meaning of these texts in the light of recent legislative and social changes. In addition to a handful of essays in queer and feminist theory, readings by: Jane Austen, Herman Melville, Thomas Mann, Willa Cather, Nella Larsen, Sylvia Townsend Warner, Radclyffe Hall, Djuna Barnes, Carson McCullers, Jane Bowles, Patricia Highsmith, James Baldwin, Shyam Selvadurai, and Maggie Nelson.