In Miss Mackenzie, Anthony Trollope attempted to write a marriage plot without love or romance but admitted that he was unable to do so. This essay argues that Trollope's formal experiment developing the “anti-romantic” marriage plot did not end with Miss Mackenzie but continued across eighteen novels written from 1864 to 1876. The essay performs a midrange reading of this set of novels to argue that across this experiment Trollope iterates his anti-romantic marriage plot, replicating his central conflict and establishing three stock characters (moral maidens, hesitating heroines, and husband hunters). Trollope's experiment clashed against his own gender and class politics, forcing him to confront and reevaluate his own ideas and gradually empathize with women who choose to marry not for romance but for financial security. While Trollope's novels have, since their publication, been criticized as repetitious, the essay argues that his use of repetition is not a weakness but a strength, a formal tactic with unique affordances. This reframing offers a way to reconsider Trollope's literary technique and prodigious output as well as appreciate the impact that his experiment had on the trajectory of the Victorian realist novel. While the 1860s and 1870s are often considered the peak of Victorian high realism, Trollope's novels (and the influence they have on other major novelists) reveal how during these decades the marriage plot and realism itself was in crisis.

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