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Historicizing Domestic Relations: Sarah Scott's Use of the "Household Family" Ann Van Sant In the casual extremity diat sometimes marks Sarah Scott's style, one of her characters says, "There is no divine Ordinance more frequendy disobeyed dian tiiat wherein God forbids human Sacrifice, for in no other light can I see most marriages."1 The stories her characters tell create both isolated and cumulative evidence for the necessity of a counter-narrative for women, for which Scott provides a model in Millenium Hall. She explicidy identifies the problem of gentlewomen displaced from conventional natal and conjugal family structures, brings a critical scrutiny to those structures, and creates a family formation hospitable to women. As Felicity Nussbaum expresses it, "Millenium Hall, recognizing the potential imprisonment of women in marriage, offers an alternative to it ... [:] a feminotopia of domesticity that offers protection from unwanted marriage, pregnancy , and die disappointments and dangers ofmaternity. It provides daily sorority."2 As Alessa Johns argues in Women's Utopias of the 1 Sarah Scott,Journey through Every Stage ofLife (1754), in BluestockingFeminism, 6 vols., ed. Gary Kelly (London: Pickering and Chatto, 1999), 6:14. 2 Felicity Nussbaum, Torrid Zones: Maternity, Sexuality, andEmpire inEighteenth-Century English Narratives (Baitimore:Johns Hopkins University Press, 1995), 151-52. EIGHTEENTH-CENTURY FICTION, Volume 17, Number 3, April 2005 374 EIGHTEENTH-CENTURY FICTION Eighteenth Century, Scottworks against the naturalized family ofblood and recreates affective and moral families.3 Aldiough in her letters Scott can take a tolerantly affectionate and conventionallywitty tone about "our William" and his exaggerated romantic suffering ("I scold widiout end at his dolorous countenance and voice, abuse him without the least degree of delicacy and he takes it all widi great good humour"),4 she also makes explicit her scepticism about the frequent bearing ofchildren ("I am as litde sensible ofthe merit ofproducing children yearly as you are") and her detachment from the concept of "blood" ("I have not diat regard to blood some good people have, perhaps it may be that I have so drained myVeins that certainly diere does not remain in my whole body one drop ofwhat I brought into the World with me) ."5 A topic ofsome interest in literary criticism and women's history has been that women writers of the late seventeenth and eighteenth centuries proposed or created fictional and actual living groups outside the boundaries of marriage and kinship. Terri Nickel, for example, argues that Sarah Fielding's "characters ... must reinvent die family as an alliance of siblings" and that "Fielding and her contemporaries ... articµlate ... affective siblinghood, as the formation of an emotional family cut loose—perhaps unwittingly—from paternal authority."6 Bridget Hill argues that the nunnery was a persistent model for women's separate communities, providing for a society of women and for practices ofpiety that extended to charitable work in the world as well as an alternative to marriage, creating, in the words of Hill's title, "a refuge from men."7 In Scott's particular case, the 3 Alessa Johns writes of Scott's "disdain for biological ties." Johns, Women's Utopias of the Eighteenth Century (Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2003), 93. See also Helen Oesterheld, "Re-reading die Woman of Feeling: Sarah Scott, Ann Radcliffe, Mary Wollstonecraft, and the Eighteenth-Century Novel ofSensibility" (PhD diss., University of California Irvine, 2001). Oesterheld argues that Scottwas able to wrest the concept ofsensibility from its culturally defined space and use it for her own feminized constructions outside the family. 4 Scott to Elizabeth Montagu, June 1760, Huntington Library, Montagu MSS, MO 5282 (hereafter cited as MO). 5 April 1754, MO 5240; 13 March 1762, MO 5290. 6 Terri Nickel, "'Ingenious Torment': Incest, Family, and die Structure ofCommunity in die Work ofSarah Fielding," TheEighteenth Century: Theory and Interpretation36:3 (1995), 238, 239. 7 Bridget Hill, "A Refuge from Men: The Idea ofa Protestant Nunnery," Past andPresent 117 (1987), 107-30. Hill treats Mary Astell's A Serious Proposal and Scott's MUlenium HaU as examples ofa recovery or revision ofthe lost separate society forwomen. Scott's sister refers to the living arrangements and charitable activity ofScott and Lady Barbara as a convent of sorts. See...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1911-0243
Print ISSN
0840-6286
Pages
pp. 373-390
Launched on MUSE
2011-07-06
Open Access
No
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