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The Domestic Revolution

'The Domestic Revolution' cover image

The Domestic Revolution

Enlightenment Feminisms and the Novel

Alongside the three revolutions we usually identify with the long eighteenth century—the French Revolution, the American Revolution, and the Glorious Revolution of 1688—Enlightenment ideology gave rise to a quieter but no less significant revolution which was largely the fruit of women's imagination and the result of women's work. In The Domestic Revolution, Eve Tavor Bannet explores how eighteenth-century women writers of novels, conduct books, and tracts addressed key social, political, and economic issues, revising public thinking about the family and refashioning women's sexual and domestic conduct.

Bannet examines the works of women writers who fell into two distinct camps: "Matriarchs" such as Eliza Haywood, Maria Edgeworth, and Hannah More argued that women had a superiority of sense and virtue over men and needed to take control of the family. "Egalitarians" such as Fanny Burney, Mary Hays, and Mary Wollstonecraft sought to level hierarchies both in the family and in the state, believing that a family should be based on consensual relations between spouses and between parents and children. Bannet shows how Matriarch and Egalitarian writers, in their different ways, sought to raise women from their inferior standing relative to men in the household, in cultural representations, and in prescriptive social norms. Both groups promoted an idealized division of labor between women and men, later to be dubbed the doctrine of "separate spheres."

The Domestic Revolution focuses on women's debates with each other and with male ideologues, alternating between discursive and fictional arguments to show how women translated their feminist positions into fictional exemplars. Bannet demonstrates which issues joined and separated different camps of eighteenth-century women, tracing the origins of debates that continue to shape contemporary feminist thought.