The Gentleman's Daughter: Women's Lives in Georgian England

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9780300075311: The Gentleman's Daughter: Women's Lives in Georgian England
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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 historical enquiry. "The Gentleman's Daughter" provides an account of the lives of genteel women - the daughters of merchants, the wives of lawyers and the sisters of gentlemen. Based on a study of the letters, diaries and account books of over 100 women from commercial, professional and gentry families, mainly in provincial England, "The Gentleman's Daughter" challenges the 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 women's own accounts of their lives to argue that in the course of the 18th and early 19th centuries the scope of female experience did not diminish - in fact, quite the reverse. Contrary to orthodoxy, in the 18th century there 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 outward: in their writing no less than in their 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 often humorous study offers an insight into the intimate and everyday lives of genteel women and aims to transform our understanding of the position of women in this period.

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Winner of the Longman History Today Prize in 1998, Amanda Vickery's The Gentleman's Daughter: Women's Lives in Georgian England is an outstanding study of a crucial period in modern women's history. Roy Porter described this book as "the most important thing in English feminist history in the last ten years." Readers familiar with the feminist analysis of women's lives in the late 18th to mid-19th century will find some of the commonplaces of that viewpoint called into question: the rise of "separate spheres" of male and female experience, for example, or the social construction of motherhood in the 18th century. At once scholarly and readable, The Gentleman's Daughter takes its readers on a vivid and well-illustrated tour of "genteel" Georgian society, bringing that world to life through what Vickery identifies as the "terms set out in their own letters by genteel women." Those terms structure the seven sections of the book: "Gentility", "Love and Duty', "Fortitude and Resignation" (which includes a notable discussion of the experience of pregnancy), "Prudent Economy", "Elegance", "Civility and Vulgarity", and "Propriety". "Our battles were not necessarily theirs," Vickery reminds us, striking her convincing balance between a feminist interest in the restriction and rebellion of women's lives and their own ways of finding meaning and pleasure in the gender distinctions of Georgian culture. --Vicky Lebeau, Amazon.co.uk

About the Author:

Amanda Vickery is lecturer in modern British women’s history at Royal Hollowly College, University of London.

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