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earthsea
The classic novel of 1749, whose prose style is in places a bit tedious but also in places very funny. The plot is a basic romantic comedy, but it is enlivened by the authorial asides which open each of the individual books within the novel, and by the author's grasp of character which must have inspired Dickens. There are also a couple of passages which pastiche Homer, Vergil and I think the King James Bible, and there must have been others that I missed.

Some social points of the 1740s that I found interesting: women had few enough rights, but in Fielding's account retained an absolute right to accept or refuse an offer of marriage. Presumably coercion was a ground for divorce or annulment, and there must have been enough cases for it to be a real issue. I was also interested that Sophia's father is depicted as having much the thickest West Country accent of any of the characters, despite being the local squire. A hundred years later, I guess all gentlemen of his class would have been assimilated into poshness by public school; but in the 1740s you only needed to communicate with the locals in your rural fastness. Mr Western of course has no time for education or politics (his sister, who serves as comic relief, is also the most politically aware character in the book). I was also struck by the relative lack of animus to the Irish (cf Shakespeare, who scores rather badly there):
Sophia heaved a deep sigh, and answered, "Indeed, Harriet, I pity you from my soul!----But what could you expect? Why, why, would you marry an Irishman?"

"Upon my word," replied her cousin, "your censure is unjust. There are, among the Irish, men of as much worth and honour as any among the English: nay, to speak the truth, generosity of spirit is rather more common among them. I have known some examples there, too, of good husbands; and I believe these are not very plenty in England. Ask me, rather, what I could expect when I married a fool."
It was a bit of a slog in places but I am glad to have read it.

Comments

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tree_and_leaf
Jul. 1st, 2012 09:05 pm (UTC)
Presumably coercion was a ground for divorce or annulment, and there must have been enough cases for it to be a real issue.

You can't, as a matter of canon or civil law, contract a marriage without the consent of both the parties - that's certainly always been the case in canon law (I don't know what Roman law said on this point, since they had a higher view of the authority of the paterfamilias). So it would be grounds for annulment, not divorce, recognising that the marriage contract had never existed in the first place.
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