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Gentlemen and Amazons

Gentlemen and Amazons: The Myth of Matriarchal Prehistory, 1861–1900

Cynthia Eller
Copyright Date: 2011
Edition: 1
Pages: 290
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1525/j.ctt1pn53d
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  • Book Info
    Gentlemen and Amazons
    Book Description:

    Gentlemen and Amazonstraces the nineteenth-century genesis and development of an important contemporary myth about human origins: that of an original prehistoric matriarchy. Cynthia Eller explores the intellectual history of the myth, which arose from male scholars who mostly wanted to vindicate the patriarchal family model as a higher stage of human development. Eller tells the stories these men told, analyzes the gendered assumptions they made, and provides the necessary context for understanding how feminists of the 1970s and 1980s embraced as historical "fact" a discredited nineteenth-century idea.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-94855-6
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. xi-xii)
  4. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  5. 1 The Travels and Travails of Matriarchal Myth
    (pp. 1-14)

    In 2003, Dan Brown became an overnight success and a media sensation with the publication ofThe Da Vinci Code. The novel is formulaic: a thriller. Before the reader can adjust her chaise longue and slather on her sunscreen, our hero, Dr. Robert Langdon, is falsely accused of a heinous crime at the world-famous Louvre Museum in Paris. A beautiful, intelligent Frenchwoman—Sophie Neveu—appears and helps Langdon escape. At first, he does not even realize that he is the intended prey of the authorities. Chases ensue, on foot, by automobile, and by airplane. The mystery begins with strange signs...

  6. 2 Amazons Everywhere: Matriarchal Myth before Bachofen
    (pp. 15-35)

    Prior to the publication of Bachofen’sDas Mutterrecht, most of the Western world was convinced that the patriarchal family was the original human society, since it was laid out as such in the book of Genesis.¹ Bachofen was the first to offer something very different, a coherent narrative that gave women and goddesses primacy in an early phase of human history only to stipulate their complete overthrow by a later social system that favored men and male gods. However, Bachofen did not create this version of prehistoryex nihilo. He had a lot of preexisting matriarchal material to work with....

  7. 3 On the Launching Pad: J. J. Bachofen and ‘Das Mutterrecht’
    (pp. 36-64)

    Bachofen has been described by one of his twentieth-century disciples, Berta Eckstein-Diener, as a “soft, corpulent Basler patrician with a wonderful, half-open child’s mouth [and] over a million Swiss francs, a professor of Roman law with many honorable titles and an almost inconceivable knowledge . . . about the feminine age under the hem of history.”¹ This sketch captures the essentials: Bachofen’s birth into wealth and status, his extensive education, and the work for which he is most remembered—his investigation into “the feminine age under the hem of history”: matriarchal prehistory.

    Bachofen was born into a conservative, wealthy, patrician...

  8. 4 The Matriarchal Explosion: Anthropology Finds Mother Right (and Itself)
    (pp. 65-99)

    While Bachofen labored away in relative isolation in Basel, a thriving fraternity of matriarchalists—including some of the most respected scholars of the day—was gathering in England and Scotland. As George Peter Murdock reflected in 1931, “The authorities for many years were all but unanimous in accepting the priority of mother right.”¹ This great interest in matriarchy coincided with the development of the discipline of anthropology in Britain. It could even be argued that itformedthe discipline of anthropology. The matriarchal thesis and the debates it provoked were a key foundation upon which anthropology established itself.² The matriarchal...

  9. 5 Making Matriarchal Myth Work: Communists and Feminists Discover the Mother Age
    (pp. 100-132)

    The political use of matriarchal myth was a natural fit in the wider social context of the late nineteenth century. “The woman question” (die Frauenfrage, in German), as it was typically known in that era, was the focus of intense debate,¹ especially as it swept up with it concerns about sexuality that were ultimately to mark the end of the Victorian era. Preoccupations with sex and gender (encoded by the Victorian anthropologists in the termskinship,marriage, andfamily) combined from the beginning with questions about greater social structures (the anthropologists’ “totemic clans” and “phraetries”). As political unrest in Europe...

  10. 6 Mother Right on the Continent
    (pp. 133-161)

    At the same time that socialists and first-wave feminists were experimenting with the political uses of matriarchal myth, its popularity within anthropology spread from England to the continent. Anthropologists in continental Europe came to matriarchal myth a bit later and less enthusiastically than the British anthropologists had, mostly owing to differences in the development of the discipline in their respective countries. Though they brought matriarchal myth to new, mostly German-speaking audiences, they added comparatively little to the matriarchal discussion, and did not create much excitement for matriarchal myth in the general public. In Great Britain, the matriarchal debate was consuming:...

  11. 7 Struggling to Stay Alive: Anthropology and Matriarchal Myth
    (pp. 162-179)

    Among all the iterations of matriarchal myth that were narrated in the late nineteenth century, it is the myth’s heyday in Great Britain among the evolutionary anthropologists that most demands explanation. Bachofen, who brought together so many sources in such a unique—not to say quirky—way had an enormous but delayed impact. His influence on the late nineteenth-century conversation was attenuated; though given a nodding regard by many, he was read and appreciated seriously by very few. This was to change quite dramatically in the twentieth century as he became the mascot for Munich’s bohemian subculture and the unsung—...

  12. 8 Matriarchal Myth in the Late Nineteenth Century: Why Then? Why Not Before?
    (pp. 180-192)

    It is a matter of historical record that in the early 1900s, matriarchal myth lost most of the ground it had gained among anthropologists in the late nineteenth century; but what is perhaps more curious is why it ever attained such currency in the first place. As we have seen, this was no marginal or passing fad, but a theory that sprang up in several places virtually at once (with Bachofen in Switzerland, McLennan in Britain, and Morgan in the United States) and that received an enthusiastic reception not only in the anthropological circles it called home, but also across...

  13. NOTES
    (pp. 193-246)
  14. BIBLIOGRAPHY
    (pp. 247-264)
  15. INDEX
    (pp. 265-275)
  16. Back Matter
    (pp. 276-276)