The Domestic Revolution
Enlightenment Feminisms and the Novel
Alongside the three revolutions we usually identify with the long eighteenth century—the French Revolution, the American Revolution, and the Glorious Revolution of 1688—Enlightenment ideology gave rise to a quieter but no less significant revolution which was largely the fruit of women's imagination and the result of women's work. In The Domestic Revolution, Eve Tavor Bannet explores how eighteenth-century women writers of novels, conduct books, and tracts addressed key social, political, and economic issues, revising public thinking about the family and refashioning women's sexual and domestic conduct.
Bannet examines the works of women writers who fell into two distinct camps: "Matriarchs" such as Eliza Haywood, Maria Edgeworth, and Hannah More argued that women had a superiority of sense and virtue over men and needed to take control of the family. "Egalitarians" such as Fanny Burney, Mary Hays, and Mary Wollstonecraft sought to level hierarchies both in the family and in the state, believing that a family should be based on consensual relations between spouses and between parents and children. Bannet shows how Matriarch and Egalitarian writers, in their different ways, sought to raise women from their inferior standing relative to men in the household, in cultural representations, and in prescriptive social norms. Both groups promoted an idealized division of labor between women and men, later to be dubbed the doctrine of "separate spheres."
The Domestic Revolution focuses on women's debates with each other and with male ideologues, alternating between discursive and fictional arguments to show how women translated their feminist positions into fictional exemplars. Bannet demonstrates which issues joined and separated different camps of eighteenth-century women, tracing the origins of debates that continue to shape contemporary feminist thought.
About the Author
Eve Tavor Bannet is in the Department of English at The University of Oklahoma.
An important and provocative treatment of the politics of domesticity, and the domesticity of politics, or the reciprocal relationship between two allegedly estranged spheres that formed the very foundation for early feminism.
The Domestic Revolution makes us question our understanding of feminism today by forcing us to complicate our notion of what feminism was at the time and in the place of its first explicit, verbal, and cultural achievement, eighteenth-century England. Bannet's uncompromising arguments, eloquently exposed, make for as vivid a reading and representation of the eighteenth century, and of women's self-representation, as any I have ever read. Anyone interested in the eighteenth century and in feminism will want to read this book.
|Johns Hopkins University Press|
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