This essay aims to restore the vital intellectual and political movement of free love to the study of American literature and culture, offering a brief overview of its major currents and analyzing three examples from a neglected archive of free-love novels, Mary Gove Nichols's Mary Lyndon (1855), Marie Howland's Papa's Own Girl (1874), and Lizzie Holmes's Hagar Lyndon (1893; published under the pen name May Huntley). In their denunciation of marriage and their investment in alternative forms of kinship, intimacy, and sociality, these novels suggest an important and overlooked historical connection between nineteenth-century reform culture and the contemporary queer critique of the progressive “marriage equality” movement. But in their ultimate turn back to marriage, they shed new light on the puzzling persistence of this institution, even for those who see its faults most clearly.

You do not currently have access to this content.