The Other Exchange: Women, Servants, and the Urban Underclass in Early Modern English Literature

The Other Exchange: Women, Servants, and the Urban Underclass in Early Modern English Literature

The Other Exchange: Women, Servants, and the Urban Underclass in Early Modern English Literature

The Other Exchange: Women, Servants, and the Urban Underclass in Early Modern English Literature

Synopsis

Prompted by commercial and imperial expansion such as the creation of the Bank of England in 1694 and the publication and circulation of Ben Jonson's The Staple of News in 1626, rapidly changing cultural, economic, and political realities in early modern England generated a paradigmatic shift in class awareness. Denys Van Renen's The Other Exchange demonstrates how middle-class consciousness not only emerged in opposition to the lived and perceived abuses of the aristocratic elite but also was fostered by the economic and sociocultural influence of women and lower-class urban communities.

Van Renen contends that, fascinated by the intellectual and cultural vibrancy of the urban underclass, many major authors and playwrights in the early modern era--Ben Jonson, Richard Brome, Aphra Behn, Joseph Addison, Richard Steele, Eliza Haywood, and Daniel Defoe--featured lower-class men and women and other marginalized groups in their work as a response to the shifting political and social terrain of the day. Van Renen illuminates this fascination with marginalized groups as a key element in the development of a middle-class mindset.

Excerpt

This book takes as its guiding methodology that the ideational basis for the emerging middle class—especially as it is fostered in Joseph Addison and Richard Steele’s The Tatler and The Spectator—derives from subjects with limited economic and social status in the early modern period.ions among a diverse cross-section of the English underclass and women, vies with Addison and Steele’s depiction of enriching commerce at the Royal Exchange, a site they portray as frequented by the economic (male) elite. By the early eighteenth century The Spectator, as Eugenia Jenkins points out, “disseminated an image of London as an ‘emporium for the whole Earth’ to a growing body of consumers outside of London.” Yet this image of England’s economic strength neglects significant contributions from women and the working poor that are underrepresented in critical scholarship of the period as well. While many recent works illuminate the lives of itinerant workers—thought to be, as Patricia Fumerton informs us, “30 to 50 percent of the early modern English population”—I center on the ways in which they either provide the conceptual framework or embody the economic trends and cultural institutions of the period. As Fumerton also notes, her study swelled “numerically and spatially” when research revealed the sheer extent of the working poor—both men and women—or what she calls the “unsettled” in England. I broadened this study to include representations of “elite” women in a strict socioeconomic sense because writers like Aphra Behn and Eliza Haywood align the concerns of these women with the pursuits and dynamism traditionally associated with the lower orders. in particular, Behn’s and Haywood’s depictions of propertied women epitomize how men increasingly deny or stigmatize women’s contributions to movements that women helped foster or reenergize.

Indeed, The Spectator is fascinated as well with how the market and social economies fostered by women and the urban underclass repeat-

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