Presenting Gender: Changing Sex in Early-Modern Culture

By Chris Mounsey | Go to book overview

The Very Scandal of Her Tea Table:
Eliza Haywood's Response to the
Whig Public Sphere

RACHEL K. CARNELL

IT SEEMS REASONABLE TO SUGGEST THAT THE GENDERED SEPARATE spheres, so familiar to twentieth-century academics through poetry and art from the Victorian period, arose in Britain in their modern form during the eighteenth century. The increased distinction between male and female spheres of duty might be ascribed to the increased leisure of middle- and upper-class women who were able to enter into what Lawrence Stone terms "companionate" marriages, rather than unions based on an ability to share equally in business duties.1 It is thus tempting to describe a trajectory from Richard Allestree's Whole Duty of Man (1658), in which woman's general subordination to her husband is set out within a rubric of High-Church patriarchy, to mid-nineteenth-century conduct books such as Sarah Stickney Ellis's The Wives of England (1843), which describe in minute detail the ways in which women might best perform their duties within the domestic sphere. However, as is the case with most teleological narratives of history, the linear trajectory from Allestree to Ellis is complicated by particular anomalies along the way. For example, the eighteenth-century novelist Eliza Haywood advised women, in her conduct books, to keep silent about their political opinions in the household even as she protested, in her periodical writings, women's exclusion from the political debates of the public sphere.2

The apparent contradiction in Haywood's different narrative strategies points us to the overlap that Jürgen Habermas observes between the literary and the political public spheres in eighteenth-century Britain. Habermas describes the private citizens who publicly exchanged ideas about the political realm as bonding through an affective humanism that derived from "the world of letters."3 This realm of letters was marked by an "ambivalence" between individuals referring to themselves on the one hand as property owners concerned with their political rights and on the other as simply human beings. In other words, the

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