Before the advent of modernism at the turn of the 20th Century, narratives usually ended with an engagement, a wedding, or a death. The protagonists of the relatively new novel form would find themselves paired off at the altar, or suffering their own demise. This narrative move demonstrates the power of marriage as a kind of full stop, a solution, a smoothing-over, the point that a relationship should be headed, even if it may fail on the way. It’s significant that although writers have since cast aside marriage as the standard form of plot resolution, marriage itself still remains a potent cultural force in the 21st century.
I want to make it clear that I’m talking about a Western cultural understanding of marriage, which over the course of the 20th and 21st centuries has become a predominantly secular affair, where subjects are able to freely choose their own spouses, and virginity and chastity are no longer prerequisites. This is based on current marriage trends, although there will always be specificities and areas of difference. It’s also important to recognise that the concept of marriage has an array of different meanings and traditions in other cultures, both secular and religious, which are far too vast for me to even attempt to discuss here.
December 7th, 2012 / 4:42 am