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Domestic Affairs

Intimacy, Eroticism, and Violence between Servants and Masters in Eighteenth-Century Britain

Kristina Straub

Publication Year: 2009

From Daniel Defoe’s Family Instructor to William Godwin’s political novel Caleb Williams, literature written for and about servants tells a hitherto untold story about the development of sexual and gender ideologies in the early modern period. This original study explores the complicated relationships between domestic servants and their masters through close readings of such literary and nonliterary eighteenth-century texts. The early modern family was not biologically defined. It included domestic servants who often had strong emotional and intimate ties to their masters and mistresses. Kristina Straub argues that many modern assumptions about sexuality and gender identity have their roots in these affective relationships of the eighteenth-century family. By analyzing a range of popular and literary works—from plays and novels to newspapers and conduct manuals—Straub uncovers the economic, social, and erotic dynamics that influenced the development of these modern identities and ideologies. Highlighting themes important in eighteenth-century studies—gender and sexuality; class, labor, and markets; family relationships; and violence—Straub explores how the common aspects of human experience often intersected within the domestic sphere of master and servant. In examining the interpersonal relationships between the different classes, she offers new ways in which to understand sexuality and gender in the eighteenth century.

Published by: The Johns Hopkins University Press


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p. v

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pp. vii-ix

I owe thanks to many colleagues who read parts of this book and improved it with their suggestions and comments. Jon Klancher gave me helpful and generous feedback on an early version combining chapters 1 and 2, as did Michael Witmore on what became chapter 2. Laura Rosenthal and Mita Choudhury gave me strong editorial advice on my reading of the Elizabeth Brownrigg materials,...

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1 The ‘‘Servant Problem’’ and the Family

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pp. 1-18

This book began as a cultural study of power relations between eighteenth century British servants and their masters and mistresses. How did a wide array of popular print and theatrical texts envision these relations? Second, how were those imaginings responsive to and formative of changing economic and social conditions in the institution of domestic servitude? Third, how did...

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2 ‘‘In the Posture of Children’’: Servants, Family Pedagogy, and Sexuality

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pp. 19-46

Domestic servants, like the more familiar figures of conjugal and blood relations in historical narratives about the emergence of family and domestic ideology, are seen throughout the century as objects of instruction, people who must be taught their proper role within the family. The history of the eighteenth-century servant as a pedagogical subject runs a course...

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3 Interpreting the Woman Servant: Pamela and Elizabeth Canning, 1740 to 1760

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pp. 47-82

Richardson’s Pamela is key to so many discussions of eighteenth-century British literary and cultural history that to position it as a text about domestic service initially seems an embarrassing oversimplification of a culturally, politically, and rhetorically complex text. To focus on Pamela’s status as a female domestic servant is also not new, as the novel’s connections to contemporaneous...

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4 Dangerous Intimacies: Roxana, Amy, and the Crimes of Elizabeth Brownrigg, 1724 to 1767

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pp. 83-109

Interpreting the woman servant became a kind of cultural pastime in the mid-eighteenth century, an obsessive return to, rather than a resolution of, what this particular object of masculine desire might, herself, want. As an erotic object, but also as a subject to whom conscious motives were attributed, the female domestic compels explication. What is her power? Her...

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5 Performing the Manservant, 1730 to 1760

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pp. 110-140

If the conundrum of women servants’ sexuality offers new insight into the formation of modern theories of gender and sexuality, men servants play a different but equally important role in the affective and instrumental family from which those theories draw. And as in the case of female domestics, the sexuality of British male servants in the eighteenth century...

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6 Men Servants’ Sexuality in the Novel, 1740 to 1794

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pp. 141-177

In the midcentury theater, the sexuality of men servants was important to the performance of a masculine charisma that appealed to British audiences across class lines. A half century’s worth of prose fictional menservants grew out of this stage character of the sexy footman and, beginning in 1740 with Fielding’s Joseph Andrews, developed him in the novel. In Joseph, the...

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Conclusion: Notes of a Footman on the ‘‘Servant Problem,’’ 1790

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pp. 178-189

This study ends by stepping from fiction to a memoir, the autobiographical travel narrative of John Macdonald, a career servant. This text, currently available through an edition in the Broadway Travellers Series, was originally entitled Travels. It was not a popular book at the time of its first publication, going through only one edition, ‘‘printed for the Author, and...


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pp. 191-214


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pp. 215-223

E-ISBN-13: 9780801895111
E-ISBN-10: 0801895111
Print-ISBN-13: 9780801890499
Print-ISBN-10: 0801890497

Page Count: 240
Publication Year: 2009

OCLC Number: 551797543
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Domestic Affairs

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Subject Headings

  • Master and servant in literature.
  • Social classes in literature.
  • Group identity in literature.
  • Gender identity in literature.
  • Household employees -- Great Britain -- Social conditions -- 18th century.
  • Families -- Economic aspects -- Great Britain -- History -- 18th century.
  • Household employees in literature.
  • English literature -- 18th century -- History and criticism
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