The Work of Women: Middle Class Domesticity in Eighteenth Century British Literature
This paper was written in Eighteenth Century British Fiction (ENGL 333), taught b yDr. Betty Joseph.
This essay considers how British literature in the eighteenth century participated in creating a singularly domestic image of women. Addressing gender roles, Samuel Richardson’s Pamela, Mary Hays’s Emma Courtney, and Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey form a literary progression with which to compare nonfiction historical sources. The critique suggests how the changing economic framework disenfranchised women as it enabled men to advance. It further identifies three aspects contributing to women’s confinement to the home: first, growing authority over domestic staff; second, responsibility over children’s education; and third, a supposed inability to engage with public, political thought. Furthermore, it recognizes how the domestic sphere simultaneously became a women’s source of authority while preventing her from engaging with the world at large. Within these topics, the essay considers how a growing feminist voice in British fiction toward the end of the eighteenth century allowed female authors to push against the devaluation of women.