The Matrimonial Trap: Eighteenth-Century Women Writers Redefine Marriage by Laura E. Thomason, Hardcover | Barnes & Noble
The Matrimonial Trap: Eighteenth-Century Women Writers Redefine Marriage

The Matrimonial Trap: Eighteenth-Century Women Writers Redefine Marriage

by Laura E. Thomason
     
 

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Mary Delany’s phrase “the matrimonial trap” illuminates the apprehension with which genteel women of the eighteenth century viewed marriage. These women were generally required to marry in order to secure their futures, yet hindered from freely choosing a husband. They faced marriage anxiously because they lacked the power either to avoid it or to

Overview

Mary Delany’s phrase “the matrimonial trap” illuminates the apprehension with which genteel women of the eighteenth century viewed marriage. These women were generally required to marry in order to secure their futures, yet hindered from freely choosing a husband. They faced marriage anxiously because they lacked the power either to avoid it or to define it for themselves. For some women, the written word became a means by which to exercise the power that they otherwise lacked. Through their writing, they made the inevitable acceptable while registering their dissatisfaction with their circumstances. Rhetoric, exercised both in public and in private, allowed these women to define their identities as individuals and as wives, to lay out and test the boundaries of more egalitarian spousal relationships, and to criticize the traditional marriage system as their culture had defined it.

Editorial Reviews

CHOICE
The historian Lawrence Stone argued that the 18th century reconceived marriage as a 'companionate' arrangement founded on mutual affection. Thomason complicates Stone's argument by analyzing the rhetorical self-fashioning of six women writers, nearly all of the social elite. As Thomason demonstrates, women theorized the companionate marriage ideal, rather than taking it as a fait accompli, and shaped their characters to maximize their own freedoms. Thus, Dorothy 'sborne and Mary Wortley Montagu both secured their own choice of husband by variously performing the roles of good daughter, virtuous maiden, and canny economist. Similarly, in her correspondence with Samuel Richardson, Hester Chapone cast herself as subject to patriarchal authority in order to undermine the assertion that daughters were obliged to marry as their families desired, while Mary Delany, warning against 'mercenary' marriages, emphasized that marital success was not solely the wife's obligation. Sarah Scott's fiction underlines the emotional toll of arranged marriages, and Eliza Haywood's advice literature tries to codify the attitudes and behaviors that will make companionate marriage a success. Thomason usefully reminds the reader that even conservative rhetorics of gender offered considerable room for rhetorical play and self-determination. Summing Up: Recommended. Upper-division undergraduates through faculty.
The Eighteenth-Century Intelligencer
Laura E. Thompson’s The Matrimonial Trap: Eighteenth Century Women Writers Redefine Marriage offers scholars an engaging insight into the ways that women of the long eighteenth century viewed themselves as active participants in the marriage economy. . . .Thompson’s study of marriage provides a thoughtful examination of how women writers consciously and meticulously honed through writing their identities as women and would-be wives. She demonstrates that these women harnessed the power of rhetorical restraint and audience analysis in ways that were sophisticated and used those skills to empower themselves in a system that was purposefully constructed to strip them of such agency. For a well-trod academic topic, Thompson extracts a refreshing analysis of how female writers employed remarkable rhetorical dexterity to spring the matrimonial trap.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781611485264
Publisher:
Bucknell University Press
Publication date:
11/15/2013
Series:
Transits: Literature, Thought & Culture, 1650-1850 Series
Pages:
216
Product dimensions:
6.00(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.00(d)

Meet the Author

Laura E. Thomason is associate professor of English at Macon State College.

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