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Household Politics

Household Politics: Conflict in Early Modern England

Don Herzog
Copyright Date: 2013
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 224
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt32bhsp
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  • Book Info
    Household Politics
    Book Description:

    Early modern English canonical sources and sermons often urge the subordination of women. InHousehold Politics, Don Herzog argues that these sources were blather-not that they were irrelevant, but that plenty of people rolled their eyes at them. Indeed many held that a man had to be an idiot or a buffoon to try to act on their hoary "wisdom." Households didn't bask serenely in naturalized or essentialized patriarchy. Instead, husbands, wives, and servants struggled endlessly over authority. Nor did some insidiously gendered public/private distinction make the political subordination of women invisible. Conflict, Herzog argues, doesn't corrode social order: it's what social order usually consists in. He uses the argument to impeach conservatives and their radical critics for sharing confused alternatives. The social world Herzog brings vibrantly alive is much richer-and much pricklier-than many imagine.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-19517-0
    Subjects: History, Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xiv)
  4. CHAPTER 1 A Tale of Two Poems
    (pp. 1-26)

    Wasn’t the culture of early modern England chock-full of misogyny? You betcha. (What time and place hasn’t been? Sorry, no points for suggesting today’s United States.)Mysogynusversified such sentiments in 1682:

    Whate’re was left unfit in the Creation

    To make a Toad, after its ugly fashion,

    Of scrapings from unfinished Creatures had,

    Sure was the body of a Woman made:

    Yet there’s some finer Atoms daub’d upon,

    Which makes her seem so beauteous to look on.¹

    Consider the thought that misogyny reigned across the board, that everyday life was so drenched in it that people couldn’t imagine or pursue...

  5. CHAPTER 2 Husbands and Wives, Gender and Genre
    (pp. 27-83)

    You might be willing to concede that the big sleep thesis invites a lazy reliance on such prefabricated abstractions as misogyny, that those loyal to it are prone to misread Swift’s poem and miss the stakes of Montagu’s sizzling response. But my skepticism about the big sleep thesis is bolder than that. I will argue that the early modern English, to use some recently fashionable jargon, didn’t “naturalize” or “essentialize” patriarchal authority.¹ I don’t think, that is, that they misunderstood contingency as necessity.

    Oh, I know: the sources insist that patriarchal authority is natural. It’s their ceaseless refrain. Usually they’re...

  6. CHAPTER 3 Public Man, Private Woman?
    (pp. 84-122)

    Nor did a disreputable public/private distinction simultaneously doom women to subordination and drape that subordination in a cloak of invisibility. This view, too, deeply misunderstands the terms of sexual inequality. And inequality is indeed what we’re up against.

    The point is familiar enough, for some tired or tiresome enough, that it’s hard to remember how startling—and how hard to explain—it is: “Women never have had equal rights with men.”¹ That’s Harriet Taylor Mill’s way of putting it in urging that women get the vote. After all, the legal exclusion of women from voting and serving in office is...

  7. CHAPTER 4 Conflict
    (pp. 123-147)

    How could there be such a thing as household politics? Politics, you might well think, is conflict about government. If you have that view—and I do—and you think of government as an institution, namely that coercive apparatus we also call the state, then you’ll think the very idea of household politics is a nonstarter. But suppose we stick with the idea that politics is conflict about government, but construe government as an activity, not an institution. To govern someone is to rule or exercise authority over her. This usage is still idiomatic today, but anyway the early modern...

  8. CHAPTER 5 The Trouble with Servants
    (pp. 148-194)

    In early modern England, many households had live-in servants, most of them female. One prominent estimate is that anywhere from 4 to 25 percent of the population at any given time were servants—and in wealthy urban settings a crushing majority of households had servants.¹ The lure of the city is old: one 1577 dialog has a citizen of London warning a country lad that the servant’s life is not the jolly one he imagines.² Most households with servants had just one, by necessity a jack-of-all-trades. But wealthier households sprouted more and more servants, with an imposingly formalized division of...

  9. Conclusion
    (pp. 195-206)

    So we’re in no position to congratulate ourselves on the allegedly new insight that the household is political. We shouldn’t imagine that the early modern English naturalized or essentialized patriarchal authority: they didn’t. We shouldn’t imagine that an insidiously gendered public/private distinction made the political subordination of women invisible: it didn’t. We shouldn’t imagine that it was virtually impossible for the early modern English—men and women alike—to confidently adopt and act on feminist views: it wasn’t. Such portraits don’t need to be painted with more subtlety, nuance, or shading to acquire historical and theoretical verisimilitude. They need to...

  10. Index
    (pp. 207-209)