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Monstrous Motherhood

Eighteenth-Century Culture and the Ideology of Domesticity

Marilyn Francus

Publication Year: 2012

Although credited with the rise of domesticity, eighteenth-century British culture singularly lacked narratives of good mothers, ostensibly the most domestic of females. With startling frequency, the best mother was absent, disembodied, voiceless, or dead. British culture told tales almost exclusively of wicked, surrogate, or spectral mothers—revealing the defects of domestic ideology, the cultural fascination with standards and deviance, and the desire to police maternal behaviors. Monstrous Motherhood analyzes eighteenth-century motherhood in light of the inconsistencies among domestic ideology, narrative, and historical practice. If domesticity was so important, why is the good mother’s story absent or peripheral? What do the available maternal narratives suggest about domestic ideology and the expectations and enactment of motherhood? By focusing on literary and historical mothers in novels, plays, poems, diaries, conduct manuals, contemporary court cases, realist fiction, fairy tales, satire, and romance, Marilyn Francus reclaims silenced maternal voices and perspectives. She exposes the mechanisms of maternal marginalization and spectralization in eighteenth-century culture and revises the domesticity thesis. Monstrous Motherhood will compel scholars in eighteenth-century studies, women’s studies, family history, and cultural studies to reevaluate a foundational assumption that has driven much of the discourse in their fields.

Published by: The Johns Hopkins University Press

Frontmatter

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Contents

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pp. vii-

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Acknowledgments

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pp. ix-xi

The gestation period of this book was long, arduous, and punctuated by interruption, change, and the unexpected— all of which seem fi tting for a work on monstrous motherhood. Yet there were many midwives and many sources of support and inspiration during the research, writing, and editing of this book, for which I am most grateful...

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Introduction: The Ideology of Domesticity Reexamined

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pp. 1-24

Motherhood is characterized by multiple discourses— biological, psychological, social, economic, and legal— but in eighteenth- century Britain the represen ta tion and assessment of motherhood was most strongly shaped by the discourse of domesticity. Eighteenth- century British society insisted upon domesticity as the most appropriate venue for the fulfi llment of a woman’s duties to God, society, and herself...

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1 Mothers of the Apocalypse: Maternal Allegory and Myth in Swift and Pope

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pp. 25-45

The monstrous, fecund female appears in Western literature as early as Homer’s Odyssey. Sailors, confronted by the prospect of being pulled into the deadly whirl pools of Charybdis, can veer toward Scylla, the monstrous mother surrounded by her yelping, parasitic progeny, who devours men at will. Scylla threatens masculinity...

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2 All Too Human: Maternal Monstrosity and Hester Thrale

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pp. 46-73

According to Lawrence Stone, Hester Thrale was a monstrous mother, breeding disaster in her wake: What conclusions are we to draw from this story? It concerns a woman who directed all her driving ambition on to her children, for lack of any serious support from, or interest shown in her by, her husband. Dominant, authoritarian, demanding, possessive...

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3 Suffer the Little Children? The Infanticidal Mother in Literature

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pp. 74-98

Like Hester Thrale, Dulness, and Criticism, the infanticidal mother is characterized as selfi sh, powerful, and dangerous. But unlike those monstrous mothers, the infanticidal mother manifests her deviance from cultural expectation by erasing her motherhood rather than exploiting its powers. Infanticide demonstrates that a woman...

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4 Until Proven Innocent: Infanticide in the Public Record and in Court

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pp. 99-122

Infanticidal parents were “Monsters of Inhumanity,” according to Joseph Addison, 1 and the terms used to characterize such parents—horrid, barbarous, and especially unnatural— underscored the deviance of such behavior from the expectations of parents and parenting as pleasant, civilized, and natural. As noted in the previous...

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5 Be Monstrous or Be Marginal: Stepmothers in Literature

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pp. 123-148

Two plays that bookended the eigh teenth century, Nicholas Rowe’s The Ambitious Stepmother (1700) and the Earl of Carlisle’s The Stepmother (1800), use the wily machinations of stepmothers to trigger their plots. In Rowe’s play, Queen Artemisa schemes against her stepson, Artaxerxes, so that her son Artaban can inherit the throne from...

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6 Pin the Tale on the Stepmother: Elizabeth Allen and the Burneys

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pp. 149-169

As the previous chapters have shown, empowered mothers, infanticidal mothers, and stepmothers signal the recurrent concerns regarding motherhood and the enactment of domestic ideology. Their narratives repeatedly express the cultural fear of maternal agency and authority, which competes with and more often overturns patriarchal power. The unpredictable fertility and unknown physiology of the maternal body...

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7 But She’s Not There: The Rise of the Spectral Mother

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pp. 170-202

As the previous chapters have shown, empowered mothers, infanticidal mothers, and stepmothers signal the recurrent concerns regarding motherhood and the enactment of domestic ideology. Their narratives repeatedly express the cultural fear of maternal agency and authority, which competes with and more often overturns patriarchal power. The unpredictable fertility and unknown physiology of the maternal body...

Notes

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pp. 203-270

Bibliography

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pp. 271-284

Index

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pp. 285-297


E-ISBN-13: 9781421407982
E-ISBN-10: 1421407981
Print-ISBN-13: 9781421407371
Print-ISBN-10: 142140737X

Page Count: 352
Publication Year: 2012

Research Areas

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Subject Headings

  • English literature -- 18th century -- History and criticism.
  • Mothers in literature.
  • Mother and child in literature.
  • Motherhood -- Great Britain -- History -- 18th century.
  • England -- Intellectual life -- 18th century.
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