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Her Bread To Earn

Her Bread To Earn: Women, Money, and Society from Defoe to Austen

Copyright Date: 1993
Pages: 296
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  • Book Info
    Her Bread To Earn
    Book Description:

    Much criticism has posited an all-powerful patriarchy that effectively marginalized and disempowered women until well into the nineteenth century. In a startling revisionist study, Mona Scheuermann refutes these stereotypes, finding that the images presented by eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century novelists are of functioning, capable women whose involvement with the getting, keeping, and investing of money provides a ubiquitous theme in the novels of the period.

    Her Bread to Earnfocuses on the images presented by the major novels of the eighteenth and early nineteenth century, those works that form the core of the canon or that define an important trend at a particular time. Moving through Defoe through Richardson, Fielding, Holcroft, Godwin, Bage, Inchbald, and Wollstonescaft to Austen, Scheuermann demonstrates that novelists of this period depicted women as relatively independent persons, many of whom managed property, shaped and directed events, and controlled their own destinies. These are intelligent women, eager to learn, and ready, sometimes aggressively ready, to act.

    Scheuermann's eighteenth-century women is drawn in the grays of reality, not in the black and white of ideology. The images she presents go far beyond the patriarchal prison into which modern criticism has sometimes forced the female characters. Certain to spark controversy, this book marks a major shift in received opinion.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-5957-7
    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-xii)
  4. ONE Introduction
    (pp. 1-11)

    The images of women in the eighteenth-century English novel are more positive than much recent discussion of women in the novel would suggest. Women are depicted as strong, capable, and responsible members of society in a surprising variety of works, and while these women are often young, they are not all so narrow in their scope as such widely discussed young ladies as Burney’s Evelina and Austen’s Emma. Many of the most positive depictions, as well as the most nasty, appear in the works of male novelists. I examine the representations of women in the work of some of the...

  5. TWO Daniel Defoe: Moll Flanders and Roxana
    (pp. 12-59)

    Defoe beginsMoll Flanderswith the demurrer that “When a Woman debauch’d from her Youth, nay, even being the Off-spring of Debauchery and Vice, comes to give an Account of all her vicious Practises, and even to descend to the particular Occasions and Circumstances by which she first became wicked, and of all the progression of Crime which she run through in threescore Year, an Author must be hard put to it to wrap it up so clean, as not to give room, especially for vitious Readers to turn it to his Disadvantage.¹ The woman to whom Defoe refers is...

  6. THREE Samuel Richardson: Clarissa
    (pp. 60-95)

    Moll FlandersandRoxanaare chronicles of women moving through a wide range of experiences and places; Richardson’s novels about women,Clarissaand the earlierPamela,are domestic novels in which the world beyond the home impinges almost not at all on the heroines. Richardson’s images of women are, arguably, the most limited of those of all the major eighteenth-century novelists; certainly the outside world is almost invisible in bothPamelaandClarissa.InPamelathe vision is limited to Pamela’s circle at Mr. B’s house; the extension of the circle merely enlarges the domestic group to include her parents....

  7. FOUR Henry Fielding: Tom Jones and Amelia
    (pp. 96-133)

    Fielding’s attitude toward women is inconsistent. On some issues, he is perceptive and generous. When he writes about marriage, for example, he understands fully the potentially disastrous consequences even a socially acceptable marriage can have for the woman; women are portrayed by Fielding as the victims in marriage far more often than men. Fielding’s heroines, Sophia Western inTom Jonesand Amelia in his last novel, are both obviously dear to his heart, and each is idealized in her way as the most perfect of women. As Martin Battestin says of Amelia, “we had best take her for what she...

  8. FIVE The Male Radical Novelists
    (pp. 134-168)

    Neither delight in the domestic woman nor fear of the Other is an issue in the radical novels of the nineties. While woman herself is not to be feared, however, the often actively hostile social structure that surrounds her provokes angry comment, as in Wollstonecraft’sMaria or the Wrongs of Woman.But even in that novel, and most obviously in the novels of the male radicals—Holcroft, Godwin, and Bage—female intellect draws the central interest of the novel. Woman’s mind, and the equality of male and female intelligence, is celebrated in the radical novel. This emphasis largely precludes categorizing...

  9. SIX The Female Radical Novelists
    (pp. 169-198)

    Elizabeth Inchbald inNature and Artwrites the same kind of novel as Bage, bringing wit and skepticism to her depictions of life up and down the social scale. The focus of her book is the inanity and hypocrisy that she sees at the core of English society, a moral emptiness that can be ludicrous but at its most serious has devastating results. Of central interest within our context, Inchbald sees class rather than gender as the determinant of victimization: rich women are as obnoxious as rich men. Wollstonecraft has a very different perspective: for her, to be born female...

  10. SEVEN Jane Austen: Pride and Prejudice and Emma
    (pp. 199-238)

    Austen’s women are ordinary women, not ideals of the good or the bad, and they find themselves in ordinary situations, growing up, courting, and marrying. The actions of these women are always seen within the perspective of common sense. Austenr’s images of women are less critical than those of the radical novelists who are chronologically close to her, and they are different in significant ways from those of earlier novelists as well. Austen concentrates on the norm, and that norm essentially is relative. Her heroines are not larger than life, and her villainesses may be mean and catty, but they...

  11. EIGHT Conclusion
    (pp. 239-251)

    When as an old woman Lady Mary Wortley Montague readClarissa,she wrote to her daughter that “This Richardson is a strange fellow. I heartily despise him, and eagerly read him, nay, sob over his works in a most scandalous manner. The first two tomes of Clarissa touched me, as being very resembling to my maiden days.”¹ Lady Mary’s courtship has all the elements of the Richardsonian drama. She corresponds with Edward Wortley Montague against her father’s wishes; her father learns about the courtship, sends her to the country to get her out of the way of temptation, and makes...

  12. Notes
    (pp. 252-280)
  13. Index
    (pp. 281-286)