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Reynolds, Paige. “Spiritual Sovereignty and the Meaning of Marriage: Mary Astell and John Milton,” 1650–1850: Ideas, Aesthetics, and Inquiries in the Early Modern Era, 17 (2010), 57–76.

Ms. Reynolds sets herself two main tasks. First, she sketches the seventeenth-century debates in England concerning marriage. This background provides a context for the second, a comparison of Milton’s views on marriage in his Doctrine and Discipline of Divorce (1644) with Astell’s views expressed in Some Reflections upon Marriage (1700). Although their arguments were separated by more than fifty years, Ms. Reynolds argues persuasively that Milton and Astell were effectively engaged in the same debate.

Earlier commentators consistently argued, mostly on biblical grounds, that marriage was a patriarchal institution, that husbands had sovereignty by right, and that wives should be submissive helpmates and good mothers. To the extent that there was any stress in this traditional set of ideas, it arose from the potential conflict between husbandly authority and the third purpose of marriage as laid out by the Book of Common Prayer: marriage is a companionable bond, meant to serve “for the mutual societie, helpe, and comfort that the one ought to have of the other, bothe in prosperity and adversitye.” Sorting out the relative priority of such goals would necessarily have social, sexual, and spiritual implications.

Both Milton and Astell gave heavy emphasis to marriage’s spiritual dimensions. They urged a wise caution before marriage, and both assumed the inevitability of male authority and the consequent necessity of female acquiescence within marriage. Under favorable circumstances such authority did not preclude mutual affection, shared purposes, and (Milton’s phrase) “conjugall fellowship.” But they differ in their attitudes toward marital breakdown. Ms. Reynolds points out that Milton and Astell both use images of domestic slavery to characterize continued participation in failed marriage, but they deploy this metaphor in significantly different ways. Milton’s primary concern was slavery on the part of husbands; he justified divorce, arguing that marital break-down [End Page 1] could shake a man’s religious faith and thereby endanger his soul. Astell gave slavery a different, distinctively female turn: women should endure the bondage of marital misery, not seeking separation or divorce, viewing their suffering instead as “a continual Martyrdom to bring Glory to God.” Marital slavery can thus be refigured as a sign of sacredness.


Montini, Donatella. “Anna Laetitia Barbauld’s Ethics of Sentiment,” Romantic Women Poets: Genre and Gender, ed. L. M. Crisafulli and C. Pietropoli. Amsterdam-New York: Rodopi, 2007. Pp. 1185–1194.

Discussing Barbauld’s miscellaneous literary activity, Ms. Montini emphasizes her groundbreaking work on the novel. In The British Novelists (1810), Barbauld established a proto-canon of British fiction, analyzed its characters and structure, and even adopted reader-response perspectives. Although her assumption that Richardson is the father of the novel seems disputable, Ms. Montini explains how Barbauld was led to it by her appreciation of Richardson’s “serious and pathetic” contents as well as of the unobtrusive authorial voice in his epistolary narrative. Besides, in both Clarissa and Sir Charles Grandison she found evidence of the “ethics of sentiment,” which relies on domesticity, inner life, and moral didacticism—”emotions of the sublime.”

Additionally, Ms. Montini stresses Barbauld’s rootedness in eighteenth-century culture, focusing on her edition of The Correspondence of Samuel Richardson (1804), in which realism and sentimentality are privileged over Romantic excesses. Furthermore, this eighteenth-century legacy in Barbauld is more indebted to Addison’s “Pleasures of Imagination” than to Coleridge’s transcendental “inward eye.” Ms. Montini grants Barbauld an important place in the canon she helped to establish.

Elisa Bizzotto
Istituto Universitario di Architettura Venezia


Kvande, Marta. “Jane Barker’s Exilius: Politics, Women, Narration, and the Public,” New Contexts for Eighteenth-Century British Fiction: Hearts Resolved and Hands Prepared, Essays in Honor of Jerry C. Beasley, ed. Christopher C. Johnson. Newark: Delaware, 2011. Pp. 127–140.

Jane Barker’s standing has never been higher. Her Exilius (probably written and circulated in manuscript as early as the 1680s but not published in book form until just after the death of Queen Anne) provides an actual...