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Domestic Affairs

, 240 pages
December 2008


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Domestic Affairs

Intimacy, Eroticism, and Violence between Servants and Masters in Eighteenth-Century Britain

From Daniel Defoe’s Family Instructor to William Godwin’s political novel Caleb Williams, literature written for and about servants tells a hitherto untold story about the development of sexual and gender ideologies in the early modern period. This original study explores the complicated relationships between domestic servants and their masters through close readings of such literary and nonliterary eighteenth-century texts.

The early modern family was not biologically defined. It included domestic servants who often had strong emotional and intimate ties to their masters and mistresses. Kristina Straub argues that many modern assumptions about sexuality and gender identity have their roots in these affective relationships of the eighteenth-century family. By analyzing a range of popular and literary works—from plays and novels to newspapers and conduct manuals—Straub uncovers the economic, social, and erotic dynamics that influenced the development of these modern identities and ideologies.

Highlighting themes important in eighteenth-century studies—gender and sexuality; class, labor, and markets; family relationships; and violence—Straub explores how the common aspects of human experience often intersected within the domestic sphere of master and servant. In examining the interpersonal relationships between the different classes, she offers new ways in which to understand sexuality and gender in the eighteenth century.

Kristina Straub is a professor of literary and cultural studies and associate dean of the College of Humanities and Social Sciences at Carnegie Mellon University. She is the author of Sexual Suspects: Eighteenth-Century Players and Sexual Ideology and Divided Fictions: Fanny Burney and Feminine Strategy.

"Straub’s study is unprecedented in its particular focus; it treats sexuality and gender... and attends to relations of class and labor in ways very few studies do."

"Straub succeeds in providing valuable insights into how understandings of the servant-master relationship inflected and even drove her examples and were also involved in shaping understandings of gender, clas, and the family more broadly."

"It is no longer possible to undertake scholarship on the non-elite in eighteenth-century England without seriously engaging with Straub's methodologies."

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