Monica F. Cohen

in Victorian Literature

ISBN: 9780199799558
Published online July 2012 | | DOI:

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Domesticity refers to the lived experience of private life, the material dimensions of the home, and an ideology that imaginatively organizes complicated and often contested ideas about privacy, work, gender identity, family, subject formation, socioeconomic class, civilizing morality, and cultural representation. For the Victorians it provided a language and a narrative for making an individual’s relationship to social life and to social structure intelligible and meaningful. Writers from a wide range of critical commitments and methodological approaches (feminist, Marxist, Foucauldian, New Historicist, psychoanalytic, structuralist—often in ingenious and provocative combinations) have illuminated the complex space where the human subject encounters ideology. Victorian domestic ideology itself pivots on two central components: the binary logic of separate spheres whereby the feminine domain of private life and feeling opposes the masculine domain of public life and work, and the figure of the middle-class domestic woman endowed both with a moral authority that derives from her naturally self-sacrificial spirit and a socioeconomic authority that rests on the management of a household and the representation of familial virtues. To say that domesticity occupies a central place in Victorian culture is probably to understate its discursive ubiquity. Newspapers, novels, sermons, political debates, not to mention the flood of conduct books and domestic manuals, attest to the Victorians’ preoccupation with the material, spiritual, philosophical, and political dimensions of private life. That this apprehension derives from the products of a robust print culture nevertheless emphasizes the sense in which domesticity named an available and yet evolving discourse.

Article.  10330 words. 

Subjects: Literary Studies (19th Century)

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