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Public and Private: Gender, Class, and the British Novel (1764-1878)

Patricia McKee
Copyright Date: 1997
Edition: NED - New edition
Pages: 256
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  • Book Info
    Public and Private
    Book Description:

    By addressing novels such as Mary Shelley's Frankenstein and Jane Austen's Emma through the lens of the theories of Jürgen Habermas and Michel Foucault, Patricia McKee explores the themes of production and consumption as they relate to gender and class.

    eISBN: 978-0-8166-8803-6
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-18)

    In the chapters that follow, I will be examining representations of public and private life in British novels and, to a lesser extent, works of social and political theory written in the later eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. My primary focus is on knowledge: its production and its distribution and how these organize institutional, social, and psychological experience. The production of knowledge and self-knowledge defines to a great extent the experience of publicness and privacy in novels during this period. Knowledge becomes, moreover, a crucial means by which both public and private life are reordered in the course of a century...

  5. 1 Models of Stability: Production and Consumption in Humphry Clinker and The Castle of Otranto
    (pp. 19-46)

    Humphry Clinkeris a work that clearly takes part in public debates occurring in eighteenth-century Britain. John Sekora has detailed the importance of Smollett’s concerns in the novel to contemporary political debates both within Parliament and within “those common rooms of public philosophy, the political papers and pamphlets.”¹ Male characters in the novel, moreover, discuss and debate public issues constantly. Jürgen Habermas’s identification of the private constituents of the eighteenth-century public marks an integration of the two spheres that is of obvious concern to Smollett. In the eighteenth century, Habermas says,

    The bourgeois public sphere may be conceived above all...

  6. 2 Productions of Knowledge: Emma and Frankenstein
    (pp. 47-76)

    According to Jürgen Habermas’s analysis, part of the strength of British social organization in the eighteenth century lay in the common reliance of public and private spheres on individuals understood to be rationally and emotionally autonomous. That the autonomy of such individuals was primarily due to their owning property was obscured, Habermas argues, by the “fictitious identity” of property owners with “human beings pure and simple.”¹ This fiction was seen through in the nineteenth century as propertyless persons began to claim rights to participate in debates about public policy. Public opinion was then reconceived, by the Mills, for example, as...

  7. 3 The Emptied Subject of Public Knowledge: The Old Curiosity Shop
    (pp. 77-112)

    In Charles Dickens’sThe Old Curiosity Shop(1840—41), Nell likes to sit at a window of her grandfather’s house, watching the street and surveying the London landscape. Unlike Austen’s Emma, Nell is unable to feel much connection to the neighbors she observes:

    None are so anxious as those who watch and wait, and at these times, mournful fancies came flocking on her mind, in crowds.

    She would take her station here at dusk, and watch the people as they passed up and down the street, or appeared at the windows of the opposite houses, wondering whether those rooms were...

  8. 4 Public Knowledge, Common Knowledge,a nd Classifications of Will: Barchester Towers and Little Dorrit
    (pp. 113-151)

    In two novels published in 1857, Trollope’sBarchester Towersand Dickens’sLittle Dorrit,the bureaucratic behavior of public institutions stymies action and thwarts progress. InBarchester Towers,bureaucratic patterns of production, characterized by displacement and indirection, develop with the dissolution of a hierarchical chain of command in the Barchester chapter of the church. Displacement is evident first in the sidestepping of patriarchal lines of inheritance: Bishop Grantly’s son, Dr. Grantly, is not given the bishopric on the death of his father. Dr. Proudie is appointed in what Dr. Grantly has thought of as his place. But then in place of...

  9. 5 Gender as Order in Public and Private: East Lynne
    (pp. 152-185)

    East Lynne,written by Mrs. Henry Wood and published in 1861, is a melodramatic “sensation novel” that provides a private perspective on both public and private life. The narrative demonstrates a knowledge of domestic experience that purports to be otherwise unavailable to most people in public life because it is knowledge of female emotions, of which gentlemen are ignorant. To a greater extent than inBarchester TowersorLittle Dorrit,characters inEast Lynneare strictly divided, by social class and, even more emphatically, by gender.

    A century earlier, in Walpole’sThe Castle of Otranto,women and men inhabited different...

  10. 6 Naturalizing Class and Gender Distinctions: The Return of the Native
    (pp. 186-218)

    The opening chapters of Thomas Hardy’sThe Return of the Native,published in 1878, provide an extraordinary representation of the state of knowledge in late Victorian England. I discussed in chapter 4 Dickens’s depiction of knowledge inLittle Dorritas a production of unknowability. For Hardy, the production of the unknowable is in place as part of the production of knowledge, so that any discovery entails, in fact produces, a corresponding ignorance. The growth of knowledge increases both ignorance and knowledge, creating unknowns to be known, just as Dickens’s bureaucracy creates blanks in forms to be filled in. For Hardy,...

  11. Conclusion
    (pp. 219-224)

    In the preceding chapters I have traced a history of representations of public and private life in British novels and, much more briefly, works of social theory written between the later eighteenth and the later nineteenth centuries. I have not focused solely on one line of development in these works, but have tried to indicate that the contents of public and private realms have shifted around in different representations and at different times. Trollope, for example, puts emotional depths into the public domain as part of the order of social class, whereas both earlier and later writers confine emotion to...

  12. Notes
    (pp. 225-238)
  13. Index
    (pp. 239-244)
  14. Back Matter
    (pp. 245-245)