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  • Family Matters
  • Helen Thompson
Ruth Perry , Novel Relations: The Transformation of Kinship in English Literature and Culture, 1748-1818 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004). Pp. x, 466. $36.00.
Jill Shefrin , Such Constant Affectionate Care: Lady Charlotte Finch—Royal Governess & the Children of George III (Los Angeles: Cotsen Occasional Press, 2003). Pp. xvi, 168. $45.00.
Naomi Tadmor , Family and Friends in Eighteenth-Century England: Household, Kinship, and Patronage (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001). Pp. x, 312. $60.00.
Susan E. Whyman , Sociability and Power in Late-Stuart England: The Cultural Worlds of the Verneys, 1660-1720 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999). Pp. xii, 287. $39.30.

To anticipate the new understandings of the eighteenth-century family advanced by the books under review here, I begin with Naomi Tadmor's Family and Friends in Eighteenth-Century England, which contains a graph of the people to whom Thomas Turner, a mercer who set up shop in Sussex in 1750 and married in 1753, refers in his diary as "my family." This vividly instructive image of what Tadmor designates Turner's household-family underscores both that family's inclusivity and, over a period of nine years, its remarkable contingency. When Turner calls his wife, brother, mother-in-law, nephew, servants, and apprentices his family, he does so not by virtue of blood ties but because they live under the same roof. By isolating "co-residence and submission to the authority of the head of the household" (27) as the criteria that justify this aggregation of not necessarily related persons, Tadmor undoes the oppositions with which we tend to define the eighteenth-century family (and, at one remove, the ideology transmitted by representations of that family): the opposition of contractuality, or "instrumentality," and sentiment; the opposition of the "domestic" and the "occupational"; the opposition of "change and continuity" (27–31); and the opposition of "individualism and close familial cooperation" (177). But the revision that Tadmor's graph most fundamentally effects is its undoing of the distinction between nuclear and extended family. Tadmor, Perry, Whyman, and Shefrin replace this distinction with the finely historicized processes by which late-seventeenth- and eighteenth-century families form, contract, reproduce, and become fluid. In so doing, they not only expose, as Perry puts it, our own "conjugal bias" (192) but also show how this bias is itself a product of history and literary history.

Tadmor reads diaries, conduct books, legal commentary, and novels to reconstruct their highly reticulated and variable networks of kin, servants, in-laws, step-relations, political connections, customers, patrons, and friends. By "pursuing keywords and phrases in texts, and analysing them as much as possible within full textual contexts and identifiable social contexts" (11), Tadmor argues for the simultaneous "inclusiveness and opacity" (129) that lend flexibility to terms like "relation," "kindred," "acquaintance," "connexion," and "friend" and "served to submerge the nuclear family in broader kinship relationships" (132). Because eighteenth-century in-laws and half- and step-relations were not flagged as such, these keywords precipitate fascinating indistinctions, begetting multiple mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters, and aunts and uncles, all of which affirm Tadmor's claim that one's denomination of one's kin demanded active qualification (by words like "near," "next," "natural," or "lawful"), or that "the claiming of a kinship was a speech act" (144). Tadmor's stress upon the indeterminacy of kinship terminology, which extends all the way down to the nuclear family, illuminates a speech act like Clarissa Harlowe's lament to James Harlowe, Jr., that "I have in you a brother, [End Page 477] but not a friend"; the concurrence of "friend" and "brother" signals the gravity of Clarissa's indictment of a brother who fails to be both.

Although Tadmor demonstrates that "if we do not understand the historical meanings of words such as 'friend' and 'friendship,' we are bound to read this novel [Clarissa] in an anachronistic . . . manner" (269), her study remains surprisingly neutral on the topic of sexual difference. In her close, nearly quantitative focus upon family-making keywords, Tadmor does not acknowledge that their meaning might be inflected by other words; that is, she does not broach the possibility that a novel like Clarissa stresses the...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-315X
Print ISSN
0013-2586
Pages
pp. 476-482
Launched on MUSE
2007-04-16
Open Access
No
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