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Reviewed by:
  • Ingenuous Subjection: Compliance and Power in the Eighteenth-Century Domestic Novel
  • Marta Kvande
Helen Thompson , Ingenuous Subjection: Compliance and Power in the Eighteenth-Century Domestic Novel (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2005). Pp. vi, 278. $59.95.

In Ingenuous Subjection, Helen Thompson takes as her starting point the fruitful paradox identified by Carole Pateman in The Sexual Contract (1988): [End Page 179] while social contract theory in one sense assumes women's freedom (since they must contract themselves in marriage), it simultaneously denies that freedom by taking women to be naturally subject to men. She adds to this a pair of central points about social contract theory: first, the insight that for Locke "it is the capacity to act freely that defines" contractarian citizens "in the first place" (3); and second, the recognition that Locke's educational program, which Thompson sees as specifically intended to mold contractarian citizens, is designed to create citizens who obey out of desire rather than fear. In other words, citizens of the modern contractual state obey ingenuously, in Locke's terms, or freely, with a kind of sprezzatura; their obedience should be spontaneous and unforced. The argument she constructs on this basis is twofold. One part of her argument is a challenge to the dominant thinking in both feminist and political theory. Against the political theory that sees the eighteenth-century individual as disembodied and abstract, she argues that the citizen's virtue and obedience are grounded by physiological desire for the good which is not anatomically sexed. In other words, the physiological mechanism that produces desire (by means of impressions in the brain that lead to physical responses) is the same in men and in women. Thus she also argues, contrary to most recent feminist thinking, that women's exclusion from citizenship in the eighteenth century is not defined by physical difference but instead by women's inability to reconcile Pateman's paradox: because women share the same unsexed physiological desire as men, their failure to comply ingenuously within marriage does not ratify the legitimacy of conjugal power as contractual and modern. That is, wives cannot act freely under the existing model of marriage because they are all too clearly obeying the commands of a husband. Wives thus fail to become citizens both because they cannot act freely and because they obey out of fear rather than desire. Therefore, Thompson claims, a wife's difficult compliance highlights the arbitrariness of a husband's power and therefore exposes the problematic contradictions of the social contract.

The second major strand of Thompson's argument focuses on the representation and elaboration of these ideas in the domestic novel. Each of the study's six chapters begins with an eighteenth-century text that articulates, responds to, or provides physiological grounding for contract theory and juxtaposes to it a domestic novel. Thompson reads the novels to show that they consistently fore-ground the problem of women's ingenuous compliance—or more commonly, the lack thereof. Chapter 1 includes the most sustained treatment of Locke's pedagogy, demonstrating how the ingenuously obedient son, who desires and chooses to obey, modernizes the father's power so "that it no longer looks like power at all" (32). Mary Astell's critique of Locke, in Thompson's view, uses unsexed physiology to reveal that husbands' authority cannot follow that pattern and therefore cannot be legitimate. She then reads Mary Davys's novel The Reformed Coquet as exemplifying the plot of a "woman who must learn to love a manifestly arbitrary domestic law" (51) but at the same time emphasizing that plot's improbability. Chapter 2 illustrates how Hobbes defines individuals in a state of nature as unsexed but cannot rationalize how those individuals are converted into naturally subject wives; Defoe's Roxana serves to exemplify the Hobbesian individual and "assert[s] the contingency of sexed nature on civil law" (72). This chapter also points out that Richardson's Pamela, even as the novel depicts Pamela as ingenuously subject as she could possibly be, cannot avoid revealing that Mr. B's power remains arbitrary. In chapter 3, Hume's mystification of how sex-right implicates conjugal power as arbitrary sheds further light...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-315X
Print ISSN
0013-2586
Pages
pp. 179-181
Launched on MUSE
2008-10-10
Open Access
No
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