This groundbreaking work examines the emergent and fluctuating relationship between the public and private social spheres of the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. By assessing novels such as Mary Shelley's Frankenstein and Jane Austen's Emma through the lens of the social theories of Jürgen Habermas and Michel Foucault, Patricia McKee presents a fresh and highly original contribution to literary studies.
McKee explores the themes of production and consumption as they relate to gender and class throughout the works of many of the most influential novels of the age including Tobias Smollett's Humphry Clinker, Horace Walpole's The Castle of Otranto, Emma, Frankenstein, Anthony Trollope's Barchester Towers, Charles Dickens's Little Dorrit and The Old Curiosity Shop, Mrs. Henry Wood's East Lynne, and Thomas Hardy's The Return of the Native.
McKee analyzes portrayals of a society in which abstract idealism belonged to knowledgeable, productive men and the realm of ignorance was left to emotional, consuming women and the uneducated. She traces the various ways British literature of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries worked to reform this social experience. Topics include Dickens's attack on the bureaucratic use of knowledge to maintain the status quo; the function of antiprogressive depictions of knowledge in Trollope, Shelley, and Hardy; and Austen's characterization of the protagonist Emma as an exception in a society that denied women's productive use of knowledge.
Offering a sharp challenge to theorists who have charted a linear division of public and private experience, McKee highlights the unexpected configurations of the emergence of the public and private spheres and the effect of knowledge distribution across class and gender lines.
Patricia McKee is professor of English at Dartmouth College. She is the author of Heroic Commitment in Richardson, Eliot, and James (1986).
eBook Public and Private (1764-1878)