The Gentleman's Daughter


Amanda Vickery


Eighteenth-century women have long been presented as the heroines of traditional biographies, or as the faceless victims of vast historical processes, but rarely have they been deemed worthy of rigorous historical enquiry. To date, there are no published studies of non-literary or non-aristocratic circles of eighteenth-century women. The Gentlemanís Daughter fills this gap with an elegant, evocative and controversial account of the lives of genteel women - the wives of lawyers, the sisters of merchants and the daughters of gentlemen. The results are striking and unexpected.

Based on the study of the letters, diaries and account books of over one hundred women from commercial, professional and gentry families, mainly in provincial England, The Gentlemanís Daughter challenges the currently influential view that the period witnessed a new division of the everyday worlds of privileged men and women into the separate spheres of home and work. Amanda Vickery invokes the womenís own accounts of their lives to argue that in the course of the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries the scope of female experience did not diminish - in fact, quite the reverse. Contrary to orthodoxy, in the eighteenth century their was neither a loss of female freedoms, nor a novel retreat into the home. In their own writing, genteel women throughout the Georgian era singled out their social and their emotional roles: kinswoman, wife, mother, housekeeper, consumer, hostess and member of polite society. To make sense of their existence, they invoked notions of family destiny, love and duty, regularity and economy, gentility and propriety, fortitude, resignation and fate. At the same time, as Vickery demonstrates, their social and intellectual horizons rolled majestically outward: in their tireless writing no less than in their ravenous reading genteel women embraced a world far beyond the boundaries of their parish; while an array of new public arenas emerged for the entertainment of the proper and the prosperous - assembly rooms, concert series, theatre seasons, circulating libraries, day-time lectures, urban walks and pleasure gardens, as well as regular sporting fixtures and the assizes.

This lively, often humorous study offers an unprecedented insight into the intimate and everyday lives of genteel women and will transform our understanding of the position of women in this period.

ISBN 0-300-07531-6


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