Chapter

The Stephen Family and the Eighteenth Century

B. W. Young

in The Victorian Eighteenth Century

Published in print October 2007 | ISBN: 9780199256228
Published online January 2008 | e-ISBN: 9780191719660 | DOI: https://dx.doi.org/10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199256228.003.0005
 The Stephen Family and the Eighteenth Century

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Freud argued in his celebrated essay that ‘the family romance’ had a direct social consequence, since ‘the progress of society in general rests upon the opposition between the generations’. This chapter shows that Leslie Stephen and daughter Virginia Woolf effectively demonstrate the connection between Freud's contentions, and this is especially clear in their relations with the 18th century. The Stephen family emerged as a social, religious, and intellectual force at the very close of the 18th century, a period with which later members of the family, from Sir James Stephen (1789-1859), to his sons James Fitzjames (1829-94) and Leslie (1832-1904), and thence Virginia, became notably preoccupied. It is this Stephen family romance with the 18th century that is used here to explore a very particular dimension of the Victorians' preoccupation with their immediate predecessor generations. Central to this family romance is a rebellion against Christianity, from Leslie Stephen's open advocacy of agnosticism to Virginia Woolf's uncompromising atheism.

Keywords: Leslie Stephen; James Stephen; Caroline Emelia Stephen; Freud; family romance; Christianity; agnosticism; atheism

Chapter.  19678 words. 

Subjects: Modern History (1700 to 1945)

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