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Desire and Domestic Fiction: A Political History of the Novel

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Desire and Domestic Fiction argues that far from being removed from historical events, novels by writers from Richardson to Woolf were themselves agents of the rise of the middle class. Drawing on texts that range from 18th-century female conduct books and contract theory to modern psychoanalytic case histories and theories of reading, Armstrong shows that the emergence of Desire and Domestic Fiction argues that far from being removed from historical events, novels by writers from Richardson to Woolf were themselves agents of the rise of the middle class. Drawing on texts that range from 18th-century female conduct books and contract theory to modern psychoanalytic case histories and theories of reading, Armstrong shows that the emergence of a particular form of female subjectivity capable of reigning over the household paved the way for the establishment of institutions which today are accepted centers of political power. Neither passive subjects nor embattled rebels, the middle-class women who were authors and subjects of the major tradition of British fiction were among the forgers of a new form of power that worked in, and through, their writing to replace prevailing notions of identity with a gender-determined subjectivity. Examining the works of such novelists as Samuel Richardson, Jane Austen, and the Bront�s, she reveals the ways in which these authors rewrite the domestic practices and sexual relations of the past to create the historical context through which modern institutional power would seem not only natural but also humane, and therefore to be desired.


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Desire and Domestic Fiction argues that far from being removed from historical events, novels by writers from Richardson to Woolf were themselves agents of the rise of the middle class. Drawing on texts that range from 18th-century female conduct books and contract theory to modern psychoanalytic case histories and theories of reading, Armstrong shows that the emergence of Desire and Domestic Fiction argues that far from being removed from historical events, novels by writers from Richardson to Woolf were themselves agents of the rise of the middle class. Drawing on texts that range from 18th-century female conduct books and contract theory to modern psychoanalytic case histories and theories of reading, Armstrong shows that the emergence of a particular form of female subjectivity capable of reigning over the household paved the way for the establishment of institutions which today are accepted centers of political power. Neither passive subjects nor embattled rebels, the middle-class women who were authors and subjects of the major tradition of British fiction were among the forgers of a new form of power that worked in, and through, their writing to replace prevailing notions of identity with a gender-determined subjectivity. Examining the works of such novelists as Samuel Richardson, Jane Austen, and the Bront�s, she reveals the ways in which these authors rewrite the domestic practices and sexual relations of the past to create the historical context through which modern institutional power would seem not only natural but also humane, and therefore to be desired.

30 review for Desire and Domestic Fiction: A Political History of the Novel

  1. 5 out of 5

    Ginny

    Lots of chewing needed for me to digest this very erudite but challenging analysis. I agree that women's writing of domestic fiction provides much important data for human history. Perhaps only by critically examining novels written during the extensive gendering of the last 250 years can we understand the political impact of such novels on both writers and readers. Lots of chewing needed for me to digest this very erudite but challenging analysis. I agree that women's writing of domestic fiction provides much important data for human history. Perhaps only by critically examining novels written during the extensive gendering of the last 250 years can we understand the political impact of such novels on both writers and readers.

  2. 5 out of 5

    sdw

    Desire and Domestic Fiction assigns a lot of historical agency to 19th century domestic fiction, and especially to the women who wrote such novels, and the female subjects at the center of those novels. Armstrong argues that these novels produced the modern subject and produced that subject as specifically female. As she asserts, “writing for and about the female introduced a whole new vocabulary for social relations” (4). The novels (starting with Richardson’s Pamela), which drew first on cond Desire and Domestic Fiction assigns a lot of historical agency to 19th century domestic fiction, and especially to the women who wrote such novels, and the female subjects at the center of those novels. Armstrong argues that these novels produced the modern subject and produced that subject as specifically female. As she asserts, “writing for and about the female introduced a whole new vocabulary for social relations” (4). The novels (starting with Richardson’s Pamela), which drew first on conduct manuals, replaced “political” antagonisms with the sexual contract. By removing sexual negotiations from the realm of the political, a new modern form of political power was produced. Specifically, psychological issues of character replaced other categories to explain the relationship between men and women. She explains that the major underlying argument here is that “modern culture depends on a form of power that works through language – and particularly the printed word – to constituted subjectivity.” Her examination of the politics of the way the texts instruct the reader to read adeptly demonstrate her point here. Certainly the rise of the middle class is central here. Armstrong balances a theoretical approach with close and interesting readings of well-known novels (Jane Eyre, Wurthing Heights, Emma, etc), and historical context. I appreciate the way the self and the subject are tied to material as well as ideological histories here.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Oisín

    Nancy Armstrong's excavation of (primarily) 19th-century literature is formidable, I am blown away by how perceptive this book is. By examining the rich textual detail that lies beneath the surface of public discourse, as represented in these books, Armstrong is able to form a convincing argument that in both how women write and are written into culture, one can see the formation of middle-class cultural hegemony. Aside from the occasional bouts of "Po-Mo"-brain (for example, arguing that any nu Nancy Armstrong's excavation of (primarily) 19th-century literature is formidable, I am blown away by how perceptive this book is. By examining the rich textual detail that lies beneath the surface of public discourse, as represented in these books, Armstrong is able to form a convincing argument that in both how women write and are written into culture, one can see the formation of middle-class cultural hegemony. Aside from the occasional bouts of "Po-Mo"-brain (for example, arguing that any numerical detail is an inherently male category), Armstrong seldom strays from the parameters of her study, which is fortunate as the book is hard enough to follow as it is. It gave me a headache at several points, but in a good way. If you like Foucault, strong textual analysis, or women; I would recommend.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Rochelle

    Armstrong argues that sexual perversion in domestic spaces in Victorian novels reflects the political upheaval and social unrest of the period. The transformation of the political/social into the sexual is a universalizing gesture. She uses Foucault to argue for the socially constructed nature of desire.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Differengenera

    the 19th century novel in england and the bourgeois subjectivity it inculcates provides a means of dissolving class distinctions, the consensual marriage contract seeking to negate the coercive social contract under the rule of capital

  6. 5 out of 5

    C Hartley

    Interesting Read An interesting meditation in the development of the novel, incorporating Foucault’s ideas about sexuality and control, and examining how the novel, up until the twentieth century, sometimes promote, sometimes challenged the subjugation and confinement of women.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Hannah

    Read this for prelims. I feel weird leaving star ratings for criticism, but for what it is worth, this one was very readable and interesting. Again, you know if you're the kind of reader who enjoys or wants to read literary criticism. Read this for prelims. I feel weird leaving star ratings for criticism, but for what it is worth, this one was very readable and interesting. Again, you know if you're the kind of reader who enjoys or wants to read literary criticism.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Erica

    Armstrong argues that the middle class domestic WOMAN is the INDIVIDUAL par excellence of the 18c and 19c--the domestic woman is the individual that Watt argues that the novel creates. She looks at conduct books and domestic fiction for how these discourses form GENDER and SEXUAL IDENTITY as the identity categories that "matter most"--building off of Foucault and his argument that the 18c and 19c see a sexual revolution in cultural monitoring/policing of sexual behavior. Although Armstrong's arg Armstrong argues that the middle class domestic WOMAN is the INDIVIDUAL par excellence of the 18c and 19c--the domestic woman is the individual that Watt argues that the novel creates. She looks at conduct books and domestic fiction for how these discourses form GENDER and SEXUAL IDENTITY as the identity categories that "matter most"--building off of Foucault and his argument that the 18c and 19c see a sexual revolution in cultural monitoring/policing of sexual behavior. Although Armstrong's argument risks blaming women for building her own domestic prison and thus enabling her own subordination, I think Armstrong does a lot to show how domesticity consolidates *a lot* of power for femininity and women in Victorian discourses (many of which we still live today). I can't totally get on board with the ways that Armstrong views the novel both as agent of historical change and evidence of historical change. Something seems tautological there--but that's a critique of many histories of the novel. Overall, bravo.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Tara Calaby

    This book argues that early novels did not merely reflect but rather created changes in human desire and the gendered body. This relies heavily upon Foucauldian analysis of texts as being productive of meaning and, while the argument is strongly presented throughout the book, I found that I wasn't always entirely convinced by it. I struggle with philosophy, though, so am more than willing to believe that this was a failing of my own, rather than of the author! There is a particular focus on Rich This book argues that early novels did not merely reflect but rather created changes in human desire and the gendered body. This relies heavily upon Foucauldian analysis of texts as being productive of meaning and, while the argument is strongly presented throughout the book, I found that I wasn't always entirely convinced by it. I struggle with philosophy, though, so am more than willing to believe that this was a failing of my own, rather than of the author! There is a particular focus on Richardson's Pamela, Austen's Emma, Charlotte Brontë's Jane Eyre and Emily Brontë's Wuthering Heights. The final chapter moves on to Freud's Dora case and I have to admit I skimmed from that point.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Countess of Frogmere

    From the back cover: "In this strinkingly original treatment of the rise of the novel, Nancy Armstrong argues that the novels and nonfiction written by and for women in 18th- and 19th-century England paved the way for the rise of the modern English middle class. Examining the works of such novelists as Samuel Richardson, Jane Austen, and the Brontes, she reveals the ways in which these authors rewrote the domestic practices and sexual relations of the past to produce the historical conditions mak From the back cover: "In this strinkingly original treatment of the rise of the novel, Nancy Armstrong argues that the novels and nonfiction written by and for women in 18th- and 19th-century England paved the way for the rise of the modern English middle class. Examining the works of such novelists as Samuel Richardson, Jane Austen, and the Brontes, she reveals the ways in which these authors rewrote the domestic practices and sexual relations of the past to produce the historical conditions making modern institutional power seem not only natural but also humane, and therefore desireable as well as necessary."

  11. 5 out of 5

    Victoria

    This book confused and frustrated me enormously. What, exactly, is "domestic fiction"? It is never clearly defined, but the term is used from the opening sentence as though it were already understood by the reader. Armstrong's writing took a great deal of effort to read and follow, and her arguments often didn't make sense to me. This book confused and frustrated me enormously. What, exactly, is "domestic fiction"? It is never clearly defined, but the term is used from the opening sentence as though it were already understood by the reader. Armstrong's writing took a great deal of effort to read and follow, and her arguments often didn't make sense to me.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Molly

    This is probably my favorite academic book and has really clarified a lot of my thinking about my thesis project. So interesting that I ended up reading pretty much every word. I even ended up telling Vincent about it because I was reminded of his work on the Supreme Court and its influence on language. Also: more justification for not underestimating the Brontës.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Jessica

    This is a great look at historical novels, particulary from the 18th and 19th centuries in England, and the implications of how they both reflected and created women's roles in the home and in society. It also addresses acceptable expressions and conceptions of desire. It's much more interesting than my blurb right here sounds. This is a great look at historical novels, particulary from the 18th and 19th centuries in England, and the implications of how they both reflected and created women's roles in the home and in society. It also addresses acceptable expressions and conceptions of desire. It's much more interesting than my blurb right here sounds.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Sue Davis

    Ian Watt argued that it was the rise of the middle class with its emphasis on individualism that made the novel possible. Armstrong makes the case that the novel provided an impetus for the rise of the middle class.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Alexis

    Another great text for examining gender roles, identity and politics in Victorian England.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Anne

  17. 5 out of 5

    Marie

  18. 4 out of 5

    Stephen

  19. 4 out of 5

    Rachel

  20. 4 out of 5

    Jennifer

  21. 5 out of 5

    Kristi

  22. 4 out of 5

    Samantha

  23. 5 out of 5

    Melissa Mccoul

  24. 4 out of 5

    Andrea

  25. 5 out of 5

    Kacie

  26. 5 out of 5

    Lise

  27. 4 out of 5

    Moi-rrrrra

  28. 4 out of 5

    Panteha

  29. 4 out of 5

    Bluejaysfan99

  30. 4 out of 5

    Simon Workman

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