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Be It Ever So Humble

Be It Ever So Humble: Poverty, Fiction, and the Invention of the Middle-Class Home

Scott R. MacKenzie
Copyright Date: 2013
Pages: 304
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  • Book Info
    Be It Ever So Humble
    Book Description:

    Before the rise of private homes as we now understand them, the realm of personal, private, and local relations in England was the parish, which was also the sphere of poverty management. Between the 1740s and the 1790s, legislators, political economists, reformers, and novelists transferred the parish system's functions to another institution that promised self-sufficient prosperity: the laborer's cottage. Expanding its scope beyond the parameters of literary history and previous studies of domesticity,Be It Ever So Humbleposits that the modern middle-class home was conceived during the eighteenth century in England, and that its first inhabitants were the poor.

    Over the course of the eighteenth century, many participants in discussions about poverty management came to believe that private family dwellings could turn England's indigent, unemployed, and discontent into a self-sufficient, productive, and patriotic labor force. Writers and thinkers involved in these debates produced copious descriptions of what a private home was and how it related to the collective national home. In this body of texts, Scott MacKenzie pursues the origins of the modern middle-class home through an extensive set of discourses-including philosophy, law, religion, economics, and aesthetics-all of which brush up against and often spill over into literary representations.

    Through close readings, the author substantiates his claim that the private home was first invented for the poor and that only later did the middle class appropriate it to themselves. Thus, the late eighteenth century proves to be a watershed moment in home's conceptual life, one that produced a remarkably rich and complex set of cultural ideas and images.

    eISBN: 978-0-8139-3342-9
    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: There’s No Case Like Home
    (pp. 1-39)

    Nouns in English, as a rule, do not have full-fledged declensions and equally seldom have distinct cases. Certainly English has no case as specialized as the locative, the case that subsumes prepositional markers indicating location,at,in,on. Languages that do feature locative cases include Latin, Sanskrit, and Old English, though lexicographers of English agree that the language lost its declensions long ago. There is one modern English noun that behaves as though it has retained its locative case from the Old English—home. Every other locational noun requires an orienting preposition. I maybehome, but I must be...

  5. 1 “Stock the Parish with Beauties”: Henry Fielding’s Parochial Vision
    (pp. 40-82)

    While no British Parliament of the eighteenth century ever met to outlaw chivalric romance, the nation’s unacknowledged legislators certainly did. Poets and reviewers subjected the motifs and themes of romance to derision and made its characteristic sensibilities vehicles for satire. InThe Rape of the Lock, the Baron “to Love an altar built, / Of twelve vast French Romances, neatly gilt” (161, lines 37–38) and set the whole lot on fire. Classicism, Cervantes, and the trading interest combined to declare chivalric romance childish, foolish, deluded, and Frenchified. Charles Gildon, a regular object of scorn for Pope and Swift, finds...

  6. 2 An Englishwoman’s Workhouse Is Her Castle: Poverty Management and the Radcliffean Gothic
    (pp. 83-124)

    The young unmarried woman in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century British fiction may be the most overdetermined character in all of English literature. We always find congregating about her a throng of themes, contests, anxieties, polemics, and proprieties. Our heroine has been seen dallying with the formation of modern subjectivity, with public literacy and mass education, and with the literary marketplace. She has been asked, and often coerced, to represent domestic harmony, the aspiring middle class, patriotic sentiment, reproductive sexuality, and the community of taste and decency. She stands accused of sexual license, filial disobedience, material greed, seductive manipulation, laziness, inattention, miscegenation,...

  7. 3 Home and Away: Hegemony and Naturalization
    (pp. 125-169)

    Something curious begins to happen in early nineteenth-century depictions of private domesticity. In the last decade of the eighteenth century, novelists, and others, had celebrated home as an enclosed, self-sustaining refuge, unchanging and impervious to the foreign. But homes in early nineteenth-century fiction take on a less idyllic aspect. Writers start to condemn them as enclosed, self-sustaining refuges, unchanging and impervious to the foreign. Home becomes boring and suffocating. At both the private and national levels, its profound inwardness feels more and more claustrophobic and solipsistic rather than safe and nurturing. In the 1790s, Robert Southey chose an epigraph from...

  8. 4 There’s No Home-Like Place: Out of Doors in Scotland
    (pp. 170-214)

    Just like their English counterparts, early nineteenth-century Scottish novelists tend to find home too hermetic or prison-like. In Elizabeth Hamilton’s 1808The Cottagers of Glenburnie, for example, the kindly but not indulgent Mrs. Mason goes to live as housekeeper to the MacClarty family (“clarty” means “dirty”) in the remote Highland village of the title and finds their cottage intolerable because nothing gets in or out. The MacClartys cannot see “how small a drain would carry [their dirty water] down to the river, instead of remaining here to stagnate, and to suffocate [them]” (150–51); Mrs. Mason’s bedchamber is “without any...

  9. Conclusion: This Home Is Not a House
    (pp. 215-226)

    One of the attributes that has helped home maintain such a durable and tenacious influence in English-speaking territories is the difficulty of defining its essential attributes. Definitions of home tend to rely on negation (home begins where narratable action ends; it is untroubled by commerce, history, and politics) or on supplementarity (home is the outward expression of self; it is the scene of enjoyment, the fruit of one’s labors). It has stationed itself beyond the threshold of the world as the definitive interior that orients all exteriority: “So far as the anxieties of the outer life penetrate into [the home],...

  10. Notes
    (pp. 227-260)
  11. Works Cited
    (pp. 261-280)
  12. Index
    (pp. 281-292)
  13. Back Matter
    (pp. 293-294)