"No Place Like Home?": The Politics of
Home-spaces in the Eighteenth Century
Shari Evans and Mary Rooks
We begin this course by examining the word "home," hoping to engage students' imaginations and interest with this seemingly universal trope that is familiar to all of us, although it manifests itself variously. Working from illustrations of a wide variety of actual and imagined eighteenth-century houses, short descriptive texts on home and village spaces, and our students' own experiences and memories, we sketch out an ideology of owned space-a working set of assumptions about what a home symbolizes, its role in the development of personal and cultural identity, and the politics of ownership. We consider historical developments, like the "threat" of the middle class looking to purchase or build homes and the decreasing ability of the laboring class to find stable housing, as well as ownership laws, concepts of domestic life, and the perils oftravel to set up our analysis of space as a commentary on gender,ethnic, and class relations. Our goal is to start students thinking about what Henri Lefebvre calls "transparent spaces," spaces of ideology that are invisible to us because we exist within them, by exposing them to the conflict between safe and unsafe spaces.
We start the course with a class-made description of the standard cultural American home. On the first day, we ask students to draw their dream house, and then we attempt to deconstruct the ideologies that form the building material of those houses. Here we identify crucial questions for the course, locating ourselves in time and place-inside, perhaps, a "National" house, a classed or raced or gendered house-and talk about what those locations mean. At midterm, we ask students to "write" their own homes, to examine what goes in to the making of what they consider to be home or what they would like home to be. This written response contrasts with the visual representation with which they began the course, as we see the ways the language of our descriptions also calls forth meaning. For in-class writing, students describe the homespaces they find in each literary text we read-even, and perhaps, especially, if those home-spaces contradict one another. This way we have available class-defined home-spaces that we can compare to one another so that, by the end of the semester, we are able to make visible those transparent spaces and the ideology that lurks behind them. At the end of the course, students redraw their dream houses, seeing the ways they have changed as our understanding of home has progressed.
Two short response papers and two essays, grouped with the four sequences of readings, allow students to respond to and build on the aspects of home that most intrigue them and to consider the way these ideas play themselves out in the texts they choose to engage. Our final exam encourages students to synthesize the material that we have engaged as a class and to see the ways their ideas have changed over the course of the semester.
This interdisciplinary course exposes students to an assortment of texts designed to help them perceive the multiple ideologies that meet in any space, but especially in the space of home. By focusing on one literary text in each sequence as a sort of home-space for the class, students are able to critically engage and make visible the transparent spaces they encounter in the texts and, we hope, also in their own lives. The concept of home is extremely important to the study of the eighteenth century, especially since so much of the writing of the time seems caught up in containing, delineating, and defining; in drawing boundaries between self and other; and in protection from mobility-of class, gender, ethnicity. The idea of home as a central site of discourse exposes students to a holistic vision of the eighteenth century that allows them to engage and understand, across time and culture, vectors of ideology that continue to play in our lives today.
The course is divided into four overlapping sequences: "Defining Home," "Home as Haven?" "Housing Understanding," and "Home as Absence." Each integrates a core literary prose text with poetry, illustrations, philosophical treatises, historical and legal documents, medical texts, and/or excerpts from popular magazines. In the first sequence, "Defining Home," we look at the ways nation, gender, occupation, and class create or challenge the idea of home. Our central text, Aphra Behn's The Rover, or The Banished Cavaliers, provides a particularly advantageous starting point because the setting, in Naples during carnival, not only reveals representations of "Englishness" in high relief against a foreign backdrop, but also invites analysis of the meaning of home for the exiled. Most important in this text are the questions it raises about confinement and filial duty, its play with disguise and cross-dressing (and hence with crossing sexual and class boundaries), and its exploration of issues of courtship and honor. It is also worth noting that The Rover, which first appeared on stage in 1677, was produced almost continually from 1685-1743, and was revived in 1757 at Covent Garden, making it central to a collective British eighteenth-century consciousness.
Starting with Fielding's Preface,
in which she identifies herself as a philosopher-novelist concerned
with the relationship between environment and moral reasoning, we locate
this novel in eighteenth-century discourses on understanding. By reading
Locke's concepts of the relationship between the external world and
the workings of the individual mind, particularly as they apply to moral
responsibility, against readings from other philosophical tracts such
as Hobbes' Leviathan and Shaftebury's Inquiry Concerning Virtue,
students are exposed to a range of views concerning human motivation
to action and the role external reality plays therein. In The Countess,
for example, disease, or dis-ease-of body, mind, and spirit-becomes
central to our discussion of home as the house of the body loses its
foundation amidst the corrupting element of the city's-and the aristocracy's-vice-ridden
surroundings. Using poetry, essays, and excerpts from the Commentaries
on the Laws of England, we situate female understanding in the
physical and emotional "spaces" of courtship, marriage, and
motherhood. Defoe's Conjugal Lewdness, for example, helps to expose the prostitution
of women in the marriage market and Hogarth's A Harlot's Progress
provides a visual representation parallel to the ruination of male
virtue we examine in connection with Tom Jones.
In our fourth
and final sequence, "Home as Absence," we further examine
what happens when there is no possessed home-space. Our central text, Cecilia,
embodies the idea of homelessness and the dangers that absence creates.
character of this novel is orphaned and taken from her mother-figure
in the country to various male guardians in London. Although excessively
wealthy, she is forced into movement she doesn't want in order to
the terms of her father's will. In addition, the central theme of the
novel is marriage and, thus, the making of home. Cecilia's guardians
try to force her into marriage, and her sizeable fortune attracts
prospects. But Cecilia herself is uninterested in marriage (for most
of the novel) and instead wants to focus on philanthropy and a return
to her female friend in the country. Most interestingly, this novel
serves as a site in which a variety of dangerous spaces intersect.
are exposed to issues of class as the wealthy bourgeois Cecilia comes
up against the aristocratic but struggling Delwyns and the miserly,
class-less Mr. Briggs; as the impoverished, but educated, Belvilles
struggle to find a home; and as Cecilia travels into impoverished
on her pilgrimages of benevolence. We see issues of race/ethnicity
when Cecilia encounters a Jew from whom she is forced to borrow money
who embodies many contemporary stereotypes of "Jewishness." We
encounter issues of gender as we see Cecilia battle for agency and
personal space throughout the novel. Finally, we are exposed to more
esoteric dangerous spaces, like the space of madness in which Cecilia
finds herself at the end of the novel.
In this sequence, we explore what happens when home itself becomes an unsafe space, especially if it is not one's own, as Cecilia opens questions of domestic power relations. Like Tom Jones, as Cecilia travels from the safety and security of her country lodgings, definitions of home emerge and evolve. But the consequences of venturing outside of the home-space are very different for these two characters. As in The Rover and The Countess of Dellwyn, we see the ways a woman's control of her only true home-space, her person/her body, is in fact limited by her connections to guardians and society. Of particular interest here is the grounding of women in the domestic sphere, where they have little or no power of ownership and are reduced to mere conduits for wealth, land, or title. The evolving definition of Cecilia's home-spaces raises questions about the importance of being able to control, own, and define space. The site of madness becomes centrally important in this sequence as students engage a variety of texts that deal with issues of insanity, confinement, and gender. We draw on contemporary medical texts on madness, like George Cheyne's The English Malady, as well as Defoe's Augusta Triumphans, which examines women's position in marriage and the "vile practice" of securing a wife in a madhouse. This takes us to Blackstone's legal discussion of the relationship of guardian to ward and of the dangers to which women with money were exposed. To expand our understanding of the outsider in this text, we look to various Spectator discussions of Jews, religious zealots, and prisons. Similarly, a variety of essayists aid our examination of controlled spaces, as we look to gardens as extensions of enclosed spaces and investigate the ways these constricting/restricted environments put into further relief the lack of control the main character has over her own life and her own access to and through space.
"No Place Like Home?": The Politics of Home-spaces in the Eighteenth Century is designed to invite students into the various home-spaces of the eighteenth century, to encourage them to see the relevance of eighteenth-century discourses to the ideologies that determine their own lives, and to make visible the historical material of those lives. Home becomes a space that is thick with possibility-with possible fulfillment, but also with the dangers of confinement-and students' readings of the multiple, interdisciplinary, texts of the course provide them with the means to name those various possibilities.
First Construction: Defining Home
Read: de Certeau,
One: Defining "Home"
Read: Behn's The Rover
Read: Selections from The History of Women & Rules and Regulations of the Magdalene House; Spectator 266 [prostitution & compassion], 276 [letters/prostitution], & 430 [the poor]; Selections from Blackstone, "Of the Rise, Progress, and Gradual Improvements, of the Laws of England"
Hogarth, Before & After
Two: "Home as Haven?"
Week Four (cont.)
Read: Selections from Blackstone, "Of Master and Servant," "Of Parent and Child"; Crowley, "The Danger of an Honest Man in Much Company"; Shaftesbury, from Miscellany III
Sequence Three: Housing Understanding
Second Construction: Writing
Read: Selections: Hobbes, Locke, Shaftesbury Preface to The Countess of Dellwyn
Read: Selections from Cheyne, The
English Malady ["Increase in Later Years"]; Selections
from Hunter Three Hundred
Week Twelve (cont.)
Third Construction: Renovating
Finals Week: Final Exam
Burney, Frances. Cecilia. Eds. Peter Sabor and Margaret Anne Doody. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1999.
Fielding, Henry. Tom Jones. Eds. Fredson
Bowers and Martin C. Battestin. New York:
Fielding, Sarah. The History of the Countess
of Dellwyn. London: A. Millar, 1759.
Alexander, William. From The History of Women.
Bristol, England: Thoemmes Press,
Blackstone, William. From Commentaries on the Laws of England. Oxford: Clarendon, 1770.
Cheyne, George. From The English Malady.
Ed. Roy Porter. London:
-. From Conjugal Lewdness. Scolars' Facsimiles and Reprints, 1967.
Demaria, Robert. Jr., ed. British Literature
1640-1789: An Anthology. Oxford, UK:
Evelyn, Mary. Mundus Muliebris, or, The
Ladies Dressing-Room Unlock'd, and Her
Gray, Thomas. "Ode
on a Distant Prospect of Eton College." Norton Anthology of
The Guardian: #100
Hobbes, Thomas. From Leviathan. Ed. J. C. A. Gaskin. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1998.
Hunter, Richard, and Ida Macalpine. From Three
Hundred Years of Psychiatry 1535-
Lefebvre, Henri. "Plan
of the Present Work."
The Production of Space. Oxford: Basil
Locke, John. From Essay concerning Human Understanding.
Ed. Peter H. Nidditch.
Montagu, Lady Mary Wortley. "Epistle
from Mrs. Yonge to Her Husband." Norton
Pope, Alexander. The Poems of Alexander Pope.
Ed. John Butt. New Haven: Yale UP,
Rogers, Katherine M. and William McCarthy, eds.
The Meridian Anthology of Early
Shaftesbury, Third Earl (Anthony Ashley Cooper).
From Characteristics of Men,
The Spectator: 39, 41, 51, 82, 88, 106-108,
112, 117, 130, 266, 276, 410, 414, 430, 474,
Swift, Jonathan. The Writings of Jonathan Swift.
Eds. Robert A. Greenberg and William
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