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7O Victorian Review Monica F. Cohen. Professional Domesticity in the Victorian Novel: Women, Work and Home. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1998. 216 p. $54.95 US (cloth). This book tests gender stereotypes ofVictorian culture by arguing that middle-class professionatism was elaborated in the space of both the domestic and the public. Rather than reading the "separate spheres" as mutually-exclusive realms of activity and exchange, Monica Cohen shows how the emergence of a culture and ethos of professionalism actually helped organize and legitimate Victorian domestic labor. At the same time, she argues, the rules and values associated witii the domestic became relevant to the more public professions and institutions. Professional Domesticity thus draws from and contributes to our growing sense of the ways in which Victorian men and women traversed the boundary between pubUc and private. Cohen's evidence is drawn primarily from several major novels ofthe period, including Persuasion, Villette, Great Expectations, Little Dorrit, Felix Holt, and Daniel Deronda. Through a series of close readings of these and otiier lesser known Uterary narratives, Cohen argues against a historical model that treats the domestic as exclusively the domain of the personal, the emotional, and the amateur. In contrast to arguments in Mary Poovey's Uneven Developments and Nancy Armstrong's Desire and Domestic Fiction, then, Cohen finds her set of texts "expressing hostility towards, and indeed a wish to repudiate, the psychological language of individualistic subjectivity that Poovey and Armstrong identify as characteristic of domestic ideology" (8). One of Cohen's most useful organizing concepts for this thesis is "nonpersonal sociability." She reasons that since Victorian domestic life was constituted of institutional relations and exchanges like those of the school and the asylum, the "business" transactions in and of the home may well have produced a personal and psychological satisfaction similar to that created by the "intimate" exchanges associated with domesticity. "Nonpersonal sociabiUty" thus created a "communitarian" Victorian household, a "small community where routine (intellectual) work is held as the primary source of meaning in individual Ufe" (7). "Nonpersonal sociability" allowed women to occupy a similar professional space (both abstract and concrete) to the artist and intellectual, and thus revises our understanding of die domestic woman's place within a professional hierarchy. Professional Domesticity helps to demonstrate how literary discourses articulated professional domestic culture and desire. For example, in her chapter on Charlotte Bronte's Villette (1853), Cohen argues that die text fuses elements of "psychodrama" and "home epic" Reviews71 to convey Lucy Snowe's desire for a home that approximates an institution: "instead of wishing for a 'true home' of her own, she wUl wish for a school of her own" (44). Villette's ambiguous ending is Bronte's way of using the novel form to alert readers to the "nonpersonal game" — another instance of nonpersonal sociabiUty — ofreading (for) the domestic. While the discussion of Villette focuses on the cultural work performed by formal aspects of Bronte's text not aU of Cohen's analyses are equally concerned with this. Each of her chapters is organized around an issue pertinent to the work of domestic ideology in the period. In her discussion of Persuasion, for example, Cohen addresses the question of middle-class women's paid work. She hypothesizes that Austen's novel "wants us to see structural affinities between the nineteenth century's incipient professionatism and a domesticity aimed at expanding the woman's sphere by defining it as social and ethical expertise", rather than paid work (35). The novel achieves tiiis with a professionalized (because domestic) set of retired Naval officers whose "ship-shape homes" represent an ideal ofdomestic management to Anne Elliot The chapter on Great Expectations grapples with the "homeoffice distinction" in its examination of Wemmick's Pleasant Home and his professional persona at Jaggers' office. In "A prejudice for milk: professionalism, nationalism and domesticism in Daniel Deronda," Cohen turns to Benedict Anderson to address the nation as an "imagined community" that interferes with Eliot's narration of the community of home. In some ways, Cohen's elaborate and detailed readings resist a reviewer's summary. For readers who are currently developing their own arguments about any one of the novels in question, this wtil...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1923-3280
Print ISSN
0848-1512
Pages
pp. 70-72
Launched on MUSE
2015-10-07
Open Access
No
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