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Monstrous Motherhood

, 312 pages
December 2012



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Monstrous Motherhood

Eighteenth-Century Culture and the Ideology of Domesticity

Although credited with the rise of domesticity, eighteenth-century British culture singularly lacked narratives of good mothers, ostensibly the most domestic of females. With startling frequency, the best mother was absent, disembodied, voiceless, or dead. British culture told tales almost exclusively of wicked, surrogate, or spectral mothers—revealing the defects of domestic ideology, the cultural fascination with standards and deviance, and the desire to police maternal behaviors.

Monstrous Motherhood analyzes eighteenth-century motherhood in light of the inconsistencies among domestic ideology, narrative, and historical practice. If domesticity was so important, why is the good mother’s story absent or peripheral? What do the available maternal narratives suggest about domestic ideology and the expectations and enactment of motherhood? By focusing on literary and historical mothers in novels, plays, poems, diaries, conduct manuals, contemporary court cases, realist fiction, fairy tales, satire, and romance, Marilyn Francus reclaims silenced maternal voices and perspectives. She exposes the mechanisms of maternal marginalization and spectralization in eighteenth-century culture and revises the domesticity thesis.

Monstrous Motherhood will compel scholars in eighteenth-century studies, women’s studies, family history, and cultural studies to reevaluate a foundational assumption that has driven much of the discourse in their fields.

Marilyn Francus is an associate professor of English at West Virginia University. She is author of The Converting Imagination: Linguistic Theory and Swift’s Satiric Prose and editor of the Burney Journal.

"The virtues of this study are too many to recite here. Francus's work is a pleasure to read; it is thoroughly researched and very carefully planned... Monstrous Motherhood is a significant study with a great deal to add to our understanding of the representation of mothers in the literature and culture of the long eighteenth century."

"In short, Francus' book is an important insight into a complex topic. It uncovers fascinating material drawn from both historical and literary sources, delivering an invaluable and compelling study."

"One doesn’t need to be an expert on eighteenth-century literature to appreciate the extent of Marilyn Francus’s study."

"With her deft interweaving of the literary and historical and expansive overview of a broad number of complex texts, Marilyn Francus develops, through her nuanced readings, our understanding of imperatives and anxieties surrounding the domestic ideal in eighteenth-century Britain. Her book is an invaluable addition to women's studies as well as literature and culture of the eighteenth century."

"Francus complicates discourses on domesticity prevalent in literary and historical contexts by analyzing texts in various genres written by both male and female authors. In so doing, she rightly asks us to rethink what critics and theorists have called "domestic ideology.""

"Francus's readings employ a broadly psychoanalytical hermeneutic, with much interesting textual, contextual, and critical matter."

"This book is an excellent study of how the public in the eighteenth century thought about and imagined motherhood. It is a canny and innovative intervention in some of the most important scholarly debates over this period and should reshape the ways in which domestic ideology and the feminine subject are theorized and historicized in the field of eighteenth-century studies."

"Marilyn Francus's Monstrous Motherhood is a meticulously researched and comprehensive study that will change the way our field discusses domesticity and is essential reading for scholars of literature, women's studies, and cultural studies."

"In Monstrous Motherhood, Marilyn Francus offers a provocative examination of 18th-century domestic ideology... In the way of groundbreaking studies, Monstrous Motherhood is replete with intriguing opportunities for future work."

"Marilyn Francus's Monstrous Motherhood is a wide-reaching, deeply researched and vitally important look at the construction of motherhood."

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