Engendering Legitimacy: Law, Property, and Early Eighteenth-Century Fiction

Engendering Legitimacy: Law, Property, and Early Eighteenth-Century Fiction

Engendering Legitimacy: Law, Property, and Early Eighteenth-Century Fiction

Engendering Legitimacy: Law, Property, and Early Eighteenth-Century Fiction

Synopsis

Engendering Legitimacy: Law, Property, and Eighteenth-Century Fiction is a study of the intersecting of law, land, property, and gender in the prose fiction of Mary Davys, Daniel Defoe, Eliza Haywood, and Jonathan Swift. The law of property in early modern England established relations for men and women that artificially constructed, altered, and ended their connections with the material world, and the land they lived upon. The cultural role of land and law in a changing economy embracing new forms of property became a founding preoccupation around which grew the imaginative prose fiction that would develop into the English novel. Glover contends that questions of political and legal legitimacy raised by England's Revolution of 1688-89 were transposed to the domestic and literary spheres of the early 1700s.

Excerpt

ENGENDERING LEGITIMACY: LAW, PROPERTY, AND EARLY EIGHTEENTH Century Fiction is a study of the intersecting of law, land, property, and gender in early eighteenth-century England. It is also a study of how that matrix shaped the experimentation in a range of forms of fiction from which emerged a new literary genre, the English novel. The beginnings of the signal shift of the primacy of property in immovable land to more fluid forms of property—money, stocks, and paper credit—was coincident with the generic shift to a new form of narrative, one shaped by the altered epistemology of late seventeenth-century England.

In her conclusion to a collection of essays exploring the worlds of women and property in the early modern period, Margreta de Grazia reminds us that we need to “expand our understanding of gender in the early modern property regime beyond the workings of the common law.” She also points out that property law created “a nexus of relations between persons and things” and that under coverture, men as well as women were bound by its provisions. The law established relations for husbands and wives, sons and daughters, heirs and siblings, and widows and widowers that artificially constructed, altered, and ended their connections with the material world and the land they lived on. Engendering Legitimacy undertakes an investigation of that relationship in the early decades of the eighteenth century as it is represented and inscribed in the imaginary of literature.

This study examines the fiction of four writers of the early eighteenth century—Jonathan Swift, Mary Davys, Daniel Defoe, and Eliza Haywood—tracing in each author’s work the varied and conflicting relationships of men and women to property and the categories of social, political, and legal legitimacy those relationships confer. These four were chosen to include a gender balance and broad geographical coverage. Swift and Davys both lived in Ireland and traveled to England as young adults. Swift eventually returned to Ireland, while Davys moved from London to York and back to London before settling permanently in Cambridge. Defoe traveled throughout England and Scotland, but spent much of his life in London. Eliza Haywood traveled to Ireland . . .

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