Be It Ever So Humble
Poverty, Fiction, and the Invention of the Middle-Class Home
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
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IntroductionThere’s No Case Like Home
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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...
“Stock the Parish with Beauties”
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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 ...
An Englishwoman’s WorkhouseIs Her Castle
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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,...
Home and Away
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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 ...
There’s No Home-Like Place
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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...
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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...
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Page Count: 304
Publication Year: 2013