Promising Language

Betrothal in Victorian Law and Fiction

By Randall T.Craig

Subjects: English Literature
Paperback : 9780791444269, 331 pages, December 1999
Hardcover : 9780791444252, 331 pages, December 1999

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Table of contents

Foreword: Cross Your Fingers . ..


List of Abbreviations

Introduction: Promising: Language/Narrative/Law

1. Language and the Victorians

2. Victorian Promises

3. Legal Fictions: Narrating Breach of Promise

4. Engaging Lies in Jane Eyre

5. Right Speaking in Adam Bede

6. Promising Marriage in The Egoist

7. Questioning Rhetoric in Can You Forgive Her?

8. Dying Promises in The Wings of the Dove

Afterword: Cross Your Heart . ..


Works Cited

Cases Cited


Argues that Victorian legal, linguistic, and cultural attitudes toward promises--especially promises to marry--had a formative effect on novels of the period.


Promising Language explores the linguistic and social ramifications of promising, and specifically promising to marry, in Victorian fiction. The concept of the promise—as speech act, as social practice and legal contract, and as structural principle and topos—lies at the intersection of several emergent nineteenth-century discourses: the science of language (notably etymology and philology), utilitarian jurisprudence (especially the freedom of contract applied to personal relations), and the aesthetics of the novel (predominantly realism). With this in mind, Craig offers new readings of several classic Victorian novels, including Pickwick Papers, Jane Eyre, Adam Bede, The Egoist, and The Wings of the Dove.

Randall Craig is Associate Professor of English at State University of New York at Albany. He is the author of The Tragicomic Novel: Studies in a Fictional Mode from Meredith to Joyce.


"I like the way Craig considers several strands of Victorian thinking about language, from philosophy and philology to law and literature. He does a fine job of establishing the various nuances, contradictions, and parallels present in the ways Victorian writers and thinkers conceptualized language and social contracts. This is fascinating material, and particularly well handled in those early chapters where he discusses the various disciplines and their approaches to language. Craig's scholarship is also admirable; he has a clear and comprehensive knowledge of the relevant works. " — Ruth Ann Smalley, College of Saint Rose

"What is likeable, interesting, and above all significant about Craig's book is his discovery of a fresh language-centered and law-centered framework for a century of novel-writing. The discovery lights up even those classic novels that might seem to have exhausted commentary. " —Robert L. Caserio, author of The Novel in England, 1900–1950: History and Theory