We cannot verify your location
Browse Book and Journal Content on Project MUSE

Be It Ever So Humble

Poverty, Fiction, and the Invention of the Middle-Class Home

Scott R. MacKenzie

Publication Year: 2013

Before the rise of private homes as we now understand them, the realm of personal, private, and local relations in England was the parish, which was also the sphere of poverty management. Between the 1740s and the 1790s, legislators, political economists, reformers, and novelists transferred the parish system’s functions to another institution that promised self-sufficient prosperity: the laborer’s cottage. Expanding its scope beyond the parameters of literary history and previous studies of domesticity, Be It Ever So Humble posits that the modern middle-class home was conceived during the eighteenth century in England, and that its first inhabitants were the poor.

Over the course of the eighteenth century, many participants in discussions about poverty management came to believe that private family dwellings could turn England's indigent, unemployed, and discontent into a self-sufficient, productive, and patriotic labor force. Writers and thinkers involved in these debates produced copious descriptions of what a private home was and how it related to the collective national home. In this body of texts, Scott MacKenzie pursues the origins of the modern middle-class home through an extensive set of discourses—including philosophy, law, religion, economics, and aesthetics—all of which brush up against and often spill over into literary representations.

Through close readings, the author substantiates his claim that the private home was first invented for the poor and that only later did the middle class appropriate it to themselves. Thus, the late eighteenth century proves to be a watershed moment in home's conceptual life, one that produced a remarkably rich and complex set of cultural ideas and images.

Published by: University of Virginia Press

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

pdf iconDownload PDF

pp. i-vi


pdf iconDownload PDF

pp. vii-viii


pdf iconDownload PDF

pp. ix-x

read more

IntroductionThere’s No Case Like Home

pdf iconDownload PDF

pp. 1-39

Nouns in English, as a rule, do not have full-fledged declensions and equally seldom have distinct cases. Certainly English has no case as specialized as the locative, the case that subsumes prepositional markers indicating location, at, in, on. Languages that do feature locative cases include Latin, Sanskrit, and Old English, though lexicographers of English agree that the language lost...

read more

“Stock the Parish with Beauties”

pdf iconDownload PDF

pp. 40-82

While no British Parliament of the eighteenth century ever met to outlaw chivalric romance, the nation’s unacknowledged legislators certainly did. Poets and reviewers subjected the motifs and themes of romance to derision and made its characteristic sensibilities vehicles for satire. In The Rape of the Lock, the Baron “to Love an altar built, / Of twelve vast French ...

read more

An Englishwoman’s WorkhouseIs Her Castle

pdf iconDownload PDF

pp. 83-124

The young unmarried woman in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century British fiction may be the most overdetermined character in all of English literature. We always find congregating about her a throng of themes, contests, anxieties, polemics, and proprieties. Our heroine has been seen dallying with the formation of modern subjectivity, with public literacy and mass education,...

read more

Home and Away

pdf iconDownload PDF

pp. 125-169

Something curious begins to happen in early nineteenth-century depictions of private domesticity. In the last decade of the eighteenth century, novelists, and others, had celebrated home as an enclosed, self-sustaining refuge, unchanging and impervious to the foreign. But homes in early nineteenth-century fiction take on a less idyllic aspect. Writers start to condemn them as ...

read more

There’s No Home-Like Place

pdf iconDownload PDF

pp. 170-214

Just like their English counterparts, early nineteenth-century Scott ish novelists tend to fi nd home too hermetic or prison-like. In Elizabeth Hamilton’s 1808 The Cott agers of Glenburnie, for example, the kindly but not indulgent Mrs. Mason goes to live as housekeeper to the MacClarty family (“clarty” means “dirty”) in the remote Highland village of the title and fi nds their cott age intolerable...

read more


pdf iconDownload PDF

pp. 215-226

One of the attributes that has helped home maintain such a durable and tenacious influence in English-speaking territories is the difficulty of defining its essential attributes. Definitions of home tend to rely on negation (home begins where narratable action ends; it is untroubled by commerce, history, and politics) or on supplementarity (home is the outward expression...


pdf iconDownload PDF

pp. 227-260

Works Cited

pdf iconDownload PDF

pp. 261-280


pdf iconDownload PDF

pp. 281-292

Prize Winners

pdf iconDownload PDF

pp. 293-294

E-ISBN-13: 9780813933429
E-ISBN-10: 0813933420
Print-ISBN-13: 9780813933412
Print-ISBN-10: 0813933412

Page Count: 304
Publication Year: 2013

OCLC Number: 828101287
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Be It Ever So Humble

Research Areas


UPCC logo

Subject Headings

  • Home in literature.
  • English fiction -- 18th century -- History and criticism.
  • Middle class in literature.
  • Nationalism in literature.
  • Social structure -- England -- History -- 18th century.
  • Poverty -- Government policy -- England.
  • English literature -- Scottish authors -- History and criticism.
  • Literature and society -- History -- 18th century.
  • You have access to this content
  • Free sample
  • Open Access
  • Restricted Access