My paper re-historicizes the eighteenth-century marriage plot by shifting attention away from both the history of literary genres and the modes of social history that have generally informed accounts of the rise of the novel. Drawing instead on recent historiography of the period's religious-political currents, I argue that the novel's marriage plot emerged as both a cultural agent of the Erastian state and an expression of a highly labile, conservative, patriot opposition. It did so, therefore, as an English marriage plot which placed Anglican ritual and relations between vicars and squires at the heart of an imagined English nation. By returning a key tradition of the novel to its theo-political origins, and by offering an account of how marriage itself gained and retained intense topicality across the long eighteenth century in struggles between church and state, I show how the novel's new marriage plot worked to place prose fiction at the center of the literary field and, by that move, radically to augment literature's social resonance.
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