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A Canon of English Literature:


Roman Britain (55 B.C. A.D. 440) The Anglo-Saxon Period (440-1066) - Old English Literature Medieval Literature 1066-1510 The Middle Ages Renaissance and Reformation: 1510-1620 The Renaissance Revolution and Restoration: 16201690 Baroque and the Metaphysical Poets 18th century Literature: 1690-1780 The Eighteenth Century Classicism and the beginning of Romanticism 7. The Romantic Period: 1780-1830 - Romanticism 8. High Victorian Literature: 1830-1880 The 19th century (Realism, Naturalism, etc.) 9. Late Victorian and Edwardian Literature: 1880-1920 The 19th century 10. Modernism and Its Alternatives: 1920-1945 Modernism 11. Post-War and Post-Modern Literature: 1945- - Post-Modernism

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The Condition of Women Slightly over half the nation was female. Yet, compared with men, we know little about what women felt, thought and did. It was men who left most records behind a fact that speaks all too eloquently of how muted women had to be. Millions of women earned their keep by toiling in light industry, in workshops, in taverns, in eating places, in the fields and in domestic service. Except among the upper bourgeoisie and gentry, they were expected to be money earners as well as bearing children and running the home. Yet very few women achieved prominence, or fortune, in the world of work, as we have very little record of their experiences. Public life on a grand scale was a men-only club (as were most of the clubs themselves). There were no female parliamentarians, explorers, lawyers, magistrates or factory entrepreneurs, and almost no women voters. Such stereotyping created a kind of invisibility: women were to be mens shadows. In a mans world, it is not surprising that a lady parroted her masters voice. The basic assumption governing relations between sexes, underpinning attitudes and institutions, and backed ultimately by law, was that men and women were naturally different in capacity, and so ought to play distinct social roles. Anatomy determined destiny. Men were intended (so men claimed) to excel in reason, business, action; womens forte lay in being submissive, modest, docile, virtuous, maternal and domestic. High public office, the professions, the universities and the Church were closed to women. Received opinion was that they should permanently depend on men as daughters on their fathers, and, once wives, on the masculine dominion of their husbands.

Once married, a lady in polite society had several functions. The first and most important was to obey her husband, as a slave obeys the master. Secondly, she had to give him heirs, because any sign of sterility was almost instantaneously stigmatised. Thirdly, another one of her duties was to know how to properly run the household. This involved providing food, drink and comforts, but also commanding the right domestic servants. Especially maids (attendants, wet-nurses, nursemaids, and later on governesses, tutors, singing teachers and dancing masters) and kitchen staff; supervising accounts; and arranging entertainment, among which she included herself. To make the house look better was her domain. Ladies polite accomplishments included the art of dressing, conversing agreeably (avoiding male dominated/ing discourses based on politics and religion), singing or playing a genteel instrument (spinets were ideal), and cultivating taste in decoration, furnishing and the arts sewing, lacemaking, drawing. Not only were they considered second-rate citizens, but they received a sex-gendered education. In affluent society, boys and girls, even small ones, were educated separately. Girls were less frequently sent away to school, being consigned to servants and aunts, becoming thus nursd upon ignorance and vanity. If a daughter failed to trap a husband, she might become an old maid, a burden on her family, forced into a frustrating post as ladys companion or governess, with no independence and existing in an impoverished no mans land between family and servants. When a gentleman was casting round for a husband for his daughter in the early Georgian matrimonial market, his first considerations were security, family, title and land. Matrimony was not narrowly about love and bliss, but involved wider matters of family policy, securing honour, lineage and fortune and families were patrilineal. In society, marriage was recommended as an alliance of sense. Having brought an infant into the world, the early 18th century ladys duty to it was largely discharged, for affluent families hired attendants, wet-nurses and nurse-maids, and later governesses, tutors, singing teachers and dancing masters. Women of quality traditionally had little to do with day-to-day child-rearing, for adults were not meant to be interested in childish things. Relations between parents and children were expected to be formal we would find them distant. Even in happy families, respect was more visible than affection. With child mortality high, avoiding excessive attachment to ones offspring may have served as an emotional defense mechanism. Despite the existence of the marriage de convenance, marrying for love became respectable and gradually more people began to accept the superior claims of personal choice of mate, affection, and even love. Increasingly, prospective partners were allowed to explore romantic feelings (though, in polite society, not sex) before marriage. Daughters were granted greater say in picking a husband (parents settled for the right of veto, while of course continuing to command the power of the purse). Marrying for love became respectable. Warmth, and even tenderness, came to characterize the public face of upperclass conjugality.

Couples whose parents or grandparents had Sird or Madamd each other adopted familiar terms of endearment. Children were now allowed to mama and papa their parents. Above all, the womans domestic situation changed. As living grew more gracious, and refined emotions were cultivated, the ladys role of domestic quarter mistress, as commissar of the laundry and purveyor of pickles, preserves and poultices, devolved upon the shoulders of the proverbially fierce, key-jangling housekeeper. (In any case, it became more common to purchase items such as soap and starch rather than make them at home). The fashionable lady was freed to cultivate feminine graces like: her toilet, teatable conversation, shopping, spending pin-money, paying and receiving calls, philanthropy, the vapours, scents and sensibility, all encouraged and mirrored by that recent narcissistic invention, the novel. The novel was now considered some sort of kitchen-sink melodrama of bourgeois life, and it was regarded as immoral literature. Chic learning, including Newtonian science, was presented palatably pre-digested in books specially written for ladies, and womens magazines such as the Ladies Diary appeared, containing short stories, the latest fashions, and items on history and geography. In reality, however, society ladies especially in London were much less submissive than these idealisations suggest, and many happily colluded in mens games of clandestine flirtation and conquest. Moreover, force of character, charm, inherited wealth or family name gave heiresses or matriarchs enormous bargaining strength and a chance to influence family destinies. Ladies were beginning to make more time fort heir children. From about mid-century, it became the done thing for well bred ladies to interest themselves with nursing their babies and training toddlers more with the exquisite delight of discovering a new pet under ones nose than with the dutifulness of the Victorian matriarch. Mothers new found desire was to fondle, dandle and dress their infants. Mothers began to take the children out of servants hands, fearing lest (as William Darrell wrote) peasantry is a disease (like the plague) easily caught. Mothering and domesticity came into vogue. Ultimately, though, the cult of the family merely created dolls houses for women to live in within a mans world, reaffirming mens grip on the rest of society. And ladies grew doll-like: ornamental, flirtacious, delicate, helpless. Yet, the cult of motherhood, sensibility and the home could also be a cage.